When Josh Brophy sits behind the baby grand at the Fox Park piano bar Keypers, where he holds court on Tuesday and Sunday evenings, he's more likely to spin out a song by Gram Parsons or Buffy Sainte-Marie rather than, say, suffer through "Piano Man" for the umpteenth time. On his debut EP, Brophy plays six originals with a loping gait and very little flash; his songs harken back to Tin Pan Alley and the Great American Songbook but with a wry sentimentality that shows a songwriter playing with established forms. Brophy is not as biting as Randy Newman nor as arch as Rufus Wainwright, or as effortlessly tuneful as Harry Nilsson, but those performers are a part of Brophy's musical DNA. Like those artists, Brophy can honor the melody and structure of classic piano pop while singing both witty and trenchant lyrics fed by a fertile brain's odd imaginings.
Recorded by Jason Hutto with little more than the hazy ambience of his Smoking Baby Studios, Dover doesn't change its approach or dazzle with distinctly different moods or tempos. The short program plays like a suite of songs or a well-made demo reel, with Brophy's laconic, somewhat limited tenor voice playing raconteur with an easy grace. When he takes a swing at writing a love song, as on "My Buttermilk Darling" or "A Sweet Song," Brophy approaches his objects of affection with wonder, sincerity and a healthy dose of bemusement at his own prospects. More striking is the title track, "Dover," which pairs dreamy, ballad-befitting chords with words of devotion that blur gender lines. On this song, as on a few other tracks, Hutto's guitar adds another voice but blends seamlessly in with Brophy's vision. But beyond that and a little ambient percussion, Dover presents an unfussy first look at a young pianist and his repertoire of clever, well-constructed tunes.
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