There's a sincerity music fans expect, especially when it comes to something they believe in, something they feel, or where they come from. Singer/songwriter Brian Lindsay is a local boy, born and raised. There's heart 'n' soil; a bit of that vintage earthy twang and blue-collar bravado in his music that would go unclassified - or simply remain lurking in the cracks between genres - if it weren't for Americana.
Americana takes artists who play American roots music like rock, blues, and country and grants them credibility, even when working outside the various styles' racial, social, or geographic limits. Lindsay is a fine example; he's a hardcore troubadour who gives birth to characters and sets his stories up, in, and around Upstate New York. His second solo record, "Esperanza," is a blend of storied songs fleshed out by a solid rock 'n' roll outfit.
In front of that outfit, the lanky Lindsay is a bona fide bandleader and performer. He leans heavy into his guitar a la The Boss and sings with ragged emotion. Yet he considers his pen mightier than his guitar.
"Esperanza" gets its name from an old mansion on Keuka Lake that was the source for ghost stories when Lindsay was a kid. "As young kinds sitting around the campfire," says Lindsay, "we'd make up these crazy stories about doctors who lived in the mansion and performed operations on people and transform them into monsters."
Though it wasn't with a guitar yet, Lindsay was already spinning tales. Years later he would return to Esperanza - now renovated into a period-correct five-star restaurant - to discover a lot more than the ghosts.
"Come to find out," he says, "it had been a winery, a whorehouse, a farm, and a stop on the Underground Railroad. And I thought, ‘Wow, that's better than any story I made up as a kid. I gotta write a song about that."'
Most of Lindsay's tunes have local ties. The themes are universal - love, loss, life, death - but the settings are places like Keuka Lake, or Summerville, or the Genesee River. Lindsay's passion is here; home sweet home.
"When I started making solo records I wanted to come up with not necessarily my own style, but at least a style I could be identified with," he says. "And I just started to take a look around and there are a lot of places you can write about up here that have a history behind them. Like ‘East Side of the River' off the first solo record. It's a song about an east side guy meets a west side girl divided by the Genesee River. It's a romance story. It had a little bit of local flair in it so people could identify."
And though home wasn't Nashville or Memphis or Chicago, Lindsay found safety and an outlet beneath the cloak of Americana. He could be who he was and do what he wanted to do.
"I didn't want to go country," he says. "I'm not from the country. It didn't feel like it was me. The roots thing was the fit for me, I don't know, maybe it's the twang in my voice that sounds rootsy. The roots thing came along when I really wanted to write songs. I didn't want to do the cover thing. I started looking at Dylan, Elvis Costello, Petty, Springsteen, Earle; all those great songwriters who had great bands behind them. I wanted to write the songs and have a great rock 'n' roll band behind them."
Like virtually every artist with a guitar and a dream rock 'n' roll was Lindsay's kick start. "Once I got into the Beatles and the Stones and The Who," he says, "I looked behind them, to Elvis, to Chuck Berry, and on and on. And then to Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters, and all that... I just kept going back and back." Lindsay rocked in the late 80's with bar bands like The El Fidels and later in The Bootleggers; an outfit that hinted at the Brian Lindsay to come.
So you could bare bones it a bit and call the man a rock 'n' roller. And you'd be right for the most part. But Lindsay wanted and needed to stake his claim on that landscape already cluttered with songwriters and their guitars and empty beer cans. He was looking for more. He was looking for his own sound.
"I'd made records with bands going back to the 80's, and they'd always sound like a couple two, three bands pushed together," Lindsay says. "But nothing really solid. I never had an identity."
It was when he looked around him and listened to those who looked around themselves that it finally clicked and the avalanche of songs began.
"I love writing," he says. "Being able to write stories. When you write something you didn't know you had in you or someone reads it and says, ‘That's a great line'...That's what it is."
The recording process is a little more tedious. Lindsay says "Esperanza" was a long time coming simply because he can't let go, he can't stop tweaking the tunes.
"They're never done," he says. "It's done when enough people around me tell me, ‘Would you quit f$$$in' around with this tune and put it out?' You just kind of look for that spot where the inspiration is still in there, but you've polished it up a bit, and you can hang your hat on the thing."