In 2004, Marc Broussard, then a precocious 22-year-old singer/songwriter, released his major-label debut; he called it Carencro, after the Louisiana town where he was born and raised, and its thematic centerpiece was a hickory-smoked slab of Bayou soul called "Home." That album and the three that followed revealed Broussard as an old-school Southern soul singer blessed with a rarefied gift and innate stylistic and emotional authenticity, causing the L.A. Times to rave, "The guy can really sing, with power, nuance and class. Anybody got a phone book? I'd listen to him hum a few pages." Those records also evidenced Broussard's maturation into a songwriter of uncommon eloquence, fashioning the indigenous idioms of his native region into compelling personal testimony.
Now, a decade after his critical breakthrough, Broussard has come full circle with A LIFE WORTH LIVING his sixth studio album, a celebration of what home means to him, starting with his wife and kids, the street he's lived on his entire life, surrounded by loved ones, and all the minutiae of everyday life that he has come to treasure.
"Home definitely has a lot to do with this album," he confirms. "But family has a lot to do with it as well, and those two go hand in hand. The infrastructure of family is really important, especially when you have four kids. Luckily I've got family that I've been able to lean on throughout all these years. Then, on top of it all, this place is just special. There's a different way of living, a different way of communicating and a different way of celebrating life here that is infectious. And once you realize it, you never want to leave."
Broussard signals his intentions with the cover portrait, which pictures him with his wife and kids sitting on the steps of a neighbor's house, instruments in hand, persuasively conveying the notion that the family that plays together stays together. That touching photograph, which recalls Norman Rockwell's heartwarming images of home and hearth, leads the listener into a song cycle that brings those traditional American values to vivid life, a linked series of ballads and deep-gut soul-rockers with revealing titles like "Edge of Heaven," "Another Day," "Weight of the World," "Perfect to Me" and "Shine." These songs, some intimate and others churning with intensity, like the kickass blues-rockers "Dyin' Man" and "Man Ain't Supposed to Cry," chart the full range of concerns and emotions of a husband, father and provider as he experiences the joys and sorrows of existence.
"Whether it's because I'm older and a little more perceptive, or whether it was just the right time, I find myself with a set of songs that really means the world to me," Broussard says with pride. "The lion's share of the material on this record is extremely personal. There are decades of stories behind a single line in any of these songs. In that way alone, it's vastly different than anything I've done before. There was much more attention to detail; I feel like I've become a more focused writer."
From the charged metaphor of the opening track and lead single "Hurricane Heart" to the closing existential lament "I'll never Know," Broussard gets really close to the bone on this record—so close, in fact, that there seems to be no distance between himself and these songs, each of them drawn from the very fabric of his life; it's as if they're being transmitted from his heart and soul directly to the listener. That's particularly true of the poignant title piece.
"It was a rare occurrence to have a song that just kind of wrote itself," Broussard says of "A Life Worth Living." "It felt like I was the conduit more than the writer, that I received this thing. It happened right after the passing of my grandmother. She was sick, and she decided not to fight the cancer, which is indicative of her style—she lived by her own rules. My mother's mother was the matriarch of this wonderful, massive family. Hurricane Isaac was bearing down on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana at the same time that she was passing away, and because it was such a sudden thing—we found out she had cancer and three weeks later she was gone—we were all left speechless. I felt like someone needed to say something and luckily the whole thing laid itself out in front of me.
"That's one of two songs on this record that came to me this way," Broussard continues. "The other one is 'Give 'Em Hell.' It's about a friend of mine, Squirrel we called him, who was the head of the English department at a Jesuit high school in New Orleans. This guy was a brilliant writer, and one of my favorite people of all time. Squirrel passed away suddenly from a heart condition last April, and that led to another song that just hit me. I sat right up in bed and heard the first line.
"My grandmother passed away at the end of the summer of 2012, and Squirrel passed away in the spring of last year, so those two songs buttressed the entire writing process for this record," he notes. "I felt both my grandmother and Squirrel's presence coaxing me through every line, through every tear that rolled down my face as I wrote. Both were extremely emotional to write because I knew how gut-wrenching every line was going to be. So surrendering to the process was very difficult, but incredibly cathartic in the end."
The album's other linchpin song is "Honesty," which, like "A Life Worth Living" and "Give 'Em Hell," began with an epiphany. "'Honesty' was born out of an experience I had listening to a song called 'Don't Tell All My Friends About Me,' by a brilliant guy named Blake Mills," Broussard recalls. "That song had a profound effect on me in that it was so brutally honest it couldn't be denied. For a long, long time, I've avoided writing about the darker side of relationships and love for fear of offending my wife's sensibilities. But after I heard that song, I said to myself, 'I can't do that anymore. I'm not gonna allow myself to be stifled; I need to be able to write whatever I'm feeling." So I had a talk with my wife and let her know that none of this stuff was really that personal, and all she needed to do was focus on how we are to each other. Then I proceeded to open myself up. So 'Honesty' is really the quintessence of this new spirit in my writing.
A LIFE WORTH LIVING marks Broussard's return to Vanguard, which released 2007's SOS: Save Our Soul, his scintillating album of covers of Southern soul classics.
"Luckily, I'm with a company that recognizes opportunities and is nimble and agile enough to make moves on it when they present themselves," says Broussard. "All of the things that I needed to happen for me to feel confident about this project have come together. It's put me in a really good head space. I'm really looking forward to the future, and there's no end in sight, that's the thing. We've got ideas that are fresh, and a team that's really excited about implementing those ideas. I'm poised for some big things, hopefully, right here."
With that, Broussard eases himself back into the unhurried rhythm of life in Carencro. The next order of business: dropping off a cookie cake baked by his wife to his daughter's first-grade class at the neighborhood elementary school.