BWW Album Review: Brian Gallagher's BROWNSTONE is a Moody, Bluesy Murderous Musical
Broadway veteran Brian Gallagher released the concept album for his new musical BROWNSTONE on his birthday in 2019. The thrilling record is mostly sung by Gallagher himself, but it also features the vocals of Broadway star Megan Hilty. Utilizing his well-honed ability to write jazzy, ambient rock with a 70s garage band vibe, Gallagher has skillfully created, for BROWNSTONE, a moody and haunting piece of musical theatre that excites as easily as it sends shivers down the spine.
As a musical and concept album, BROWNSTONE tells the story of the murderous Mrs. Dodd, who resides in an East Village brownstone. Her first victim is her husband, who planned to pack his things and leave her for another woman. This murder emboldens her to venture outside of her home, abandoning the life she had known solely within the confines of her apartment's walls. Stalking the halls of the four-story building, she dispatches her neighbors. However, everything that dies inside the brownstone can never leave the brownstone, so Mrs. Dodd finds herself haunted by the ghosts of all of her victims.
With raucous charm both "Prologue (A Murderer's Justification)" and "Brownstone" set up the concept and narrative arch of the album. Gallagher's vocals effervesce with a devilish, dark charm across these tone setting tracks. Hilty's first solo, "The Other Side of the Wall," is a pared down ballad made beautiful with her softly hued, plaintive instrument. She paints a character that is worthy of empathy as she longs to understand what life is like outside of her apartment while also asking anyone listening to understand her own desires for her solitude. For "Shady Mr. Dodd," Gallagher keenly applies roughly hewn vocals that contrast with Hilty's, perfectly showcasing the disparity between the characters of Mr. and Mrs. Dodd. The lyrics paint him as an awful man who is self-aware of and relishes in his flaws and faults.
From there, the album seemingly progresses into songs sung by the neighbors turned murder victims. Hilty's vocals on "Daisy Dearest" are warm, tender, and enchanting. She makes this ballad sparkle with radiant heart. "Bloody Mr. Andrew" bops along with a funk vibe informed by the blues. Gallagher's vocals on the track highlight the darkness of the track, adding passionate fire to the torment-laden lyrics. "Rest Now (A Lullaby)" offers a tonal shift, conjuring almost beachy vibes with its instrumentation and vibrant, up-tempo melody line. Gallagher's soothing, inviting voice dances across the song. With a driving bass line, perfectly placed guitar string screeches, and more, Gallagher brings wondrously angsty and impassioned life to "Scary Mary." This show-stopper of a tune is powerhouse for angry, emboldened blues that sink to the core of the listener and awaken ancient, primal feelings.
Starting with an almost poppy piano backdrop that gives way to a turbulent, frenzied guitar melody, "The Mark on Mr. Marx" is a driving anthem sung with aplomb by Gallagher. The lyrics resonate deep in the soul, reminding listeners that we all have devils that we individually face. For the delicately lithe "We Are Found (The Last Lullaby)," Hilty's and Gallagher's pairing on the duet is nothing short of heartwarming. "The Demon's Dance" is a rollicking instrumental piece with a spoken word segment that purposefully shifts the listener back into the fray of the narrative. Then, "Odd Mrs. Dodd" brings the narrative back to its beginnings, reminding listeners that "if you die here in the brownstone, you cannot leave." In the song, Mrs. Dodd struggles with the hauntings she is enduring and contemplates suicide, realizing that she may be stuck with her neighbors for an eternity. Almost like a bonus track, "Aengus of the Mines" closes the album. It's themes are seemingly in contrast to the narrative of BROWNSTONE until the lyrics indicate that Aengus's death set into motion the tale that BROWNSTONE tells.
Gallagher's BROWNSTONE, as a thirteen track, 51-minute concept album, stands alone as a captivating blues record. Knowing that this is a sneak peak of a musical on its way to being staged, makes it all the more exciting. From track to track, Gallagher's moody compositions overflow with buoyant electricity, making the album and musical all the more enigmatic and alluring.