Still struggling to find the right style for his powerful voice, Marc Broussard is an artist whose studio output is characterized by untapped potential. While 2006’s covers collection S.O.S.: Save Our Soul underwhelmed because of its too-conservative arrangements, his latest effort, Keep Coming Back, recalls his last album of original material, 2003’s Carencro, in that the songs and the production rarely live up to Broussard’s performances. Working with Broussard’s first-rate touring band, producers Justin Tocket and Calvin Turner fail to give the album a distinctive sound.
While the title track and “Hard Knocks” suggest the ragged, Muscle Shoals-inspired energy of Broussard’s live shows, smoother cuts like “Another Night Alone” and “Evil Things” recall much of the neutered R&B and blue-eyed soul of the early 1980s. As a result, Broussard’s distinct influences sound confined to individual tracks rather than cohering into a style that incorporates all of his many points of reference into something more singular and readily identifiable. The blistering swamp-funk of Carencro‘s “Home,” still one of the finest singles of this decade, remains but an isolated example of how compelling Broussard’s music could be if and when he’s able to put his excellent taste in influences to use in a sound that isn’t so doggedly retro-minded.
Of course, the middling quality of some of his original material doesn’t help in that regard either. While “Power’s in the People” is vastly superior to John Mayer’s limp, asthmatic “Waiting on the World to Change,” it’s still too mellow and too broad to stand as an effective populist anthem. “Hard Knocks” hammers its “School of Hard Knocks” conceit into the ground with a cringe-inducing series of grade school-worthy rhymes. If not as memorably poor, the title track and “Man for Life” nonetheless mine standard, tired R&B tropes.
It’s up to Broussard’s performances, then, to carry the record, and to his credit, he’s largely able to do so. Broussard is simply one of the finest, truest soul singers recording today, and he shows the full breadth of his skill here, from his gritty, blues-inflected delivery of the title track to the effortless falsetto he uses to croon “Another Night Alone.” He’s at his smoothest on “When It’s Good,” on which he’s joined by LeAnn Rimes, returning the favor for the duet Broussard contributed to her Family record and nearly matching his power and depth of expression. The duet is easily the highlight of Keep Coming Back, yet another effort on which Broussard’s undeniable talent shines through otherwise undistinguished material and uninspired production.