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Oakdale musician hopeful for the future

Brett Dennan, Oakdale's singer songwriter.
Brett Dennan, Oakdale's singer songwriter.

Brett Dennen is sweeping the cobwebs from his front step in Santa Monica.

From the looks of his schedule, he'd better do an extra-good job. The Oakdale native and up-and-coming singer/songwriter won't have much time to sweep cobwebs, or anything else, thanks to the release of his new album today.

The 28-year-old musician is following up his breakthrough 2006 album, "So Much More," with "Hope for the Hopeless."

The 11-track disc continues Dennen's musical evolution from simple guitar-wielding troubadour to high-production, collaborative artist.

"In many ways 'Hope for the Hopeless' just picks up where my last album left off," Dennen said in a phone interview in between sweeps. "In terms of sound and production, it's a nice, gradual increase of production from the more down stuff I've done in the past. The songs are stronger. The themes are the same, but they incorporate more of the world sound and bigger production."

Released on Downtown Music/Dualtone Records, the album features rock, folk, pop and Afro-Caribbean sounds. Its first single, "Make You Crazy," is a collaboration with Nigeria Afro-beat star Femi Kuti. Dennen said he has been a fan of both Femi and his father, Afro-beat pioneer Fela Kuti, for a long time.

Dennen tapped musical friend Mandy Moore to appear in the video for "Make You Crazy." Shot last month in Los Angeles, the video features Dennen as a shoe store clerk who tries to help a picky customer (Moore) find the right pair of shoes. In the end, she realizes she wants to wear what Dennen is wearing -- nothing -- and goes off barefoot.

A photo of the two stars shooting the video appeared in People magazine earlier this month. Dennen appeared on Moore's 2007 album, "Wild Hope," and is thanked in the credits.

But Moore isn't the the only famous friend to lend the rising star a hand. Dennen has toured the past two years with superstar John Mayer. He also has fellow musicians Jason Mraz and Spearhead's Michael Franti in his corner as outspoken advocates.

"It's great because when a musician likes you, that means you are a musician's musician," Dennen said of his famous supporters. "Musicians are more critical than critics are about the music they listen to, so it's an incredible compliment."

"Hope for the Hopeless" is featured in Rolling Stone magazine's Fall Music Preview. The magazine wrote, "Laid-back folk rocker Brett Dennen's finger-picked, jazz-influenced chord structures could be mistaken for Dave Matthews or early John Mayer tunes."

Also, Dennen's new album gets a B-plus review in the current issue of Entertainment Weekly, which praises his "clear, melodic voice."

On Nov. 3, Dennen heads out for a cross-country "mini-tour" of smaller venues, which will be followed by a larger headlining tour beginning in January. He will stop at The Independent in San Francisco on Nov. 6.

Dennen had music from "So Much More" featured on shows including "Grey's Anatomy," "House" and "Scrubs." He also has performed on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and "Last Call with Carson Daly." More late-night talk show appearances are planned in the coming months, and he will perform on "Good Morning America" on Nov. 15.

He said touring with Mayer and other musicians has made him appreciate and want to emulate their work ethic.

"One thing I definitely learned from John Mayer is that early on, he really developed this incredible relationship with his fans," Dennen said. "They seem to be completely dedicated to him. They're not fair-weather fans. ... I think that's the most important thing. He has been really honest and played lots and lots of shows and continues to put on a really good live show. If you don't put on a great live show, you don't give people a reason to come back."

Dennen's music continues to touch on the personal and wider world with songs like "World Keeps Turning," "Follow Your Heart" and "San Francisco."

"Time and place are something that I will always try to incorporate into my songs," he said. "Whether it's date, time, year, geographically, it gives you a sense of something more tangible."

The time and place that started him on his path to music came years ago when, as a child, Dennen spent his summers at Camp Jack Hazard (run by the YMCA of Stanislaus County in the Sierra). There, he would sing songs around the campfire each night.

The 1997 Oakdale High School graduate and former Modesto Junior College student graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 2002 with a degree in community studies. It was then he decided to pursue music full time.

Dennen said he still comes back to visit Oakdale four or five times a year. He has old high school and summer camp friends in the area, as well as his family.

With his roots in the Central Valley, Dennen said the region informed his view of the world.

"The region gave me a love for the small-town atmosphere, blue-collar lifestyles and the working class," Dennen said. "It also helped me fall in love with the mountains, backpacking and fishing. ... Every year, every day, I am totally thankful for what I have. I'm a guy from Oakdale, California, who somehow made it into the ranks of some of the greatest musical contemporaries out there."

For more on Brett Dennen visit his Web site at brettdennen.net.

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