Bryen Willems (a.k.a. “the Swamp Duck”) usually fronts five piece band Bryen and the Bayou Boogie Boys - playing a mix of originals and drawing from a virtual treasure trove of the best country, blues, swamp and southern rock from the last 50 years.
Bryen’s debut album TOO COLD AT HOME was released early 2007. Recorded at Unit 4 Studios, with producers Gary Brown and Les Scott – the album is a collection of originals and songs that have influenced Bryen over the decades.
In addition to fronting his own band, Bryen also has the privilege of playing bass or guitar and providing backing vocals for local country band Tall Timbre. You can also find him regularly playing alongside one of Australia’s top country vocalists Nicki Gillis, featuring in many duets.
Bryen has worked as an announcer in country radio on Sydney's 2RRR88.5FM and at Festival 101.5FM during many Tamworth Country Music Festivals.
His musical interest was sparked only after settling down in Australia, having moved from his Louisiana home with wife Karen. An Australian citizen for a number of years now, Bryen’s musical influences are of bayou heritage with an Australian flavour.
His debut album TOO COLD AT HOME, features self-penned tracks HONKY-TONK SONG, BEER AND LIPSTICK, co-writes DEEP DOWN I’M SHALLOW, BABY ARE YOU RUNNIN’ and the beautiful duet AS LONG AS I LIVE with songbird Nicki Gillis. With the first single HONKY-TONK SONG receiving good radio support.
Bryen’s new single DEEP DOWN I’M SHALLOW, co-written with Tim Costello, secured him a Top 20 finalist spot in the 2007 Unisong International Songwriting Competition.
Too Cold At Home – Distributed by The Planet Company
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Review In Rhythms Magazine August Issue
Too Cold At Home
Folks, we have our very own Tony joe White living and breathing amongst us. His name is Bryen Willems. From Louisiana, Willems brings genuine Southern swamp sounds and mixes ‘em up with some honky-tonk, a Nashville outlaw element, and adds some Australian flavour for good measure.
Too Cold At Home is Willems’ debut album and portrays him as both a gifted interpreter and an emerging songwriter. But the first thing you’ll notice about Willlems is that voice – Tony joe meets Waylon in Willems’ sonorous drawl, lending these 11 songs incontrovertible authority.
Okay, lets look at Willems’ selection of covers first. Any album that opens with a Steve Young track will inevitably get my attention and Too Cold At Home kicks off with an explosive rendition of ‘Lonesome, On’ry & Mean’ a version, Willems attests, that has been officially approved by the author himself. This is immediately followed by a cool and swaggering interpretation of Johnny Paycheck’s ’11 Months and 29 Days’ and by now you have a fair idea of where Willems’ influences lie. There’s also a sweetly swinging take on Roy Acuff’s ‘As Long As I Live’, a duet that contrasts Willems’ deep tones with the bird-like voice of Nicki Gillis.
As far as the originals go, it’s rewarded to hear Willems injecting his own personality into his compositions rather than merely aping his heroes. ‘Deep Down I’m Shallow’ demonstrates that Willems has a firm grasp of the Australian sense of humour, ‘Honky-Tonk Song’ tackles the age old generation gap issue, ‘Beer and Lipstick is classic barroom ballad, and ‘Baby Are You Runnin’’ introduces an irresistible Western Swing attitude, complete with some feisty fiddle courtesy of Mark Oats. In fact, Willems’ band is pretty much faultless throughout, suggesting Bryen and the Bayou Boogie Boys would be a live band worth chasing down.
Let It Slide!
By Keith Glass
Guitars and more guitars feature on our multi-national releases this month with the accent on the raised fret-boards of Dobro’s, steels and a 12 string for good measure.
First up the debut release from Alabama native, Sydney resident BRYEN WILLEMS titled too Cold At Home finds the hobby singer/songwriter/musician getting serious with the help of GARY BROWN and the late LES SCOTT in the producing chairs (as well as various many guitar based instruments) the redoubtable ALLAN TOMKINS on bass throughout and a cast of supporters that includes NICKI GILLIS (vocs). TOMI GRASO (steel) TRAVIS COLLINS and JAKE LARDOT (guitars) loads more but I’m sorry we are out of room. Must talk about the music. Bryen’s worn-in twang is the real deal on a mix of creditable originals (Deep Down I’m Shallow, Beer And Lipstick) and outlawish to reverent covers. For example, STEVE YOUNG’s Lonesome, On’ry & Mean kicks it off and the traditional spiritual Just A Closer Walk With Me is the closer. The crew and artist all sound like they are having the time of their lives and as Bryen commented “making albums could become addictive.” It’s never too late to start cold and take it on home.
Review by Ronnie and Rossco (R & V Photographers)
One great thing about reviewing CD's is that you get the chance to listen to a wide variety of styles.
On odd occasions you discover a musician that is really passionate about his music.
Louisiana born Bryen Willems is one of those musicians.
Bryen has the Bayou country music / Honky Tonk / Cajun music styles all rolled into one tight package in his debut album Too Cold At Home.
The first track, Lonesome has the feel of travelling on a bus as the countryside passes you by, tapping fingers to the beat of the music.
The second track, 11 Months 29 Days has a similar feel-good laid back style.
Track 3, Too Cold for Home has a real country drawl to it, a pleasant relaxed feel to the whole song.
Track 4, Deep Down I'm Shallow has an early Creedance Clearwater vibe. Great structure and beat.
Track 5, As Long as I Live, a duet with Nicki Gillis is one of those country love songs with fiddle solos and a smooth guitar melody to keep the listener tuned to the last note.
Track 6, Highway Junkie. What's a country based album without a trucker's song? This is the one! Trucks, wheels,whitelines and long hauls, great song!
Track 7, Honky Tonk Song, is a tongue in cheek song that makes a mockery of the cheesy sort of country music love songs. Byren's charming grassroots American drawl really give this tune that extra 'punch'.
Track 8, Another Day, is a racy tune with backing vocals, a snappy feel to the whole track. Made us think of a farm machinery commercial.
Track 9, Beer & Lipstick is another song that has a great blend of instruments that intertwine in and out of great lyrics
Track 10, Baby are You Running. More of the fiddle playing and racy guitar .Impressive.
Track 11, Just a Close Walk With Thee is a church style hymn that embraces the appeal of country music and rolls it into one.This tune seems to reflect Bryen's earlier aspirations in America to become a minister of the church. You can feel a "preacher to congregation" performance.
Bryen Willems has delivered the goods with this debut album. In addition the album has some superb images on the cover and booklet, and an easy to read lyrics sheet.Basically the whole package is out to impress, and yes we were more than impressed.
If you're after a country music CD that has first class music both lyrically and musically then this is an album to grab.
8 out of 10 from us.
COUNTRY MUSIC CAPTIAL NEWS – FEBRUARY 2007
SOUND ADVICE - REVIEW by DEBORAH MINTER
TOO COLD AT HOME - BRYEN WILLEMS (Independent)
Bryen Willems is a Louisiana-born Aussie who brought a piece of the bayou with him when he settled in Australia. Affectionately known as ‘the Swamp Duck’, Bryen writes and plays laidback music with the definite aroma of the bayou; in fact you almost want to slap at the mossies. His brand new CD Too Cold At Home is a fine collection of both originals and great, if not that well known, Cajun country tracks. His duet with the sweet-voiced NICKI GILLIS. As Long As I Live was written by the legend ROY ACUFF. Of his own songs, Deep Down I’m Shallow is a song that could definitely become a cult classic. Honky-Tonk Song pokes fun at ‘bubble-gum pop’ dressed up as country music. Bryen Willems plays music that is rugged, unpretentious, honest and it’s real; to quote his bio, ‘If you want some nancy-boy, sissy, pseudo-country pop stuff, look elsewhere!’
Profile Article In CAP NEWS:
COUNTRY MUSIC CAPITAL NEWS – APRIL 2007
BY DEBORAH MINTER
Louisiana-born BRYEN WILLEMS has imported his bayou-style of country music to his new home in Australia.
His music is redolent of humid backwoods lethargy where even the most foot-stomping track is delivered with a laid-back drawl. But it wasn’t always music that inspired him. Like any good southern boy, the driving force in Bryen’s life was the church. In fact, he was studying to be a minister when he and wife Karen moved to Australia and fell in love with the Land Down Under.
“We have made great friends here,” Bryen said. “Our kids were born here. It’s a country that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I like how you can disagree strongly with someone here and still be good mates. It’s also good that no matter how strong your opinion about something is there’s always someone near by to make fun of it!”
“After we moved to Australia I got involved in community radio at 2RRR. I finally got my chance to do my own country program, very early on Saturday mornings. My first day, I planned everything. I put the access codes to the back door and studio room into my diary so I wouldn’t forget them. I got to the station early, laid out all my CDs, my diary notes, my coffee and Snickers bar read to go. I did last minute nervous trip to the loo … and the door to the studio slammed shut behind me I locked myself out! Through the door I could hear the taped overnight program as it ran out and there was nothing but dead air! What a winner!”
Bryen also became involved in the live music scene, working with bands culminating with BRYEN & THE BAYOUR BOOGIE BOYS. Bryen also plays bass with TALL TIMBRE and performs in a duo with songstress NICKI GILLIS. “I play in as many bands as I can because I’m a gig junkie,” he admitted. I’m a sponge; I’m always learning, watching what works or what doesn’t, developing my own sound.”
Bryen combined with another self-confessed gig-junkie GARY BROWN to record his debut CD Too Cold At Home. Gary and the late LES SCOTT co-produced the album.
Bryen’s new single for the album is the cheeky Honky-Tonk Song. “I felt like hearing a good hard core country song. I turned on CMT (as it was then called) and as that time there was nothing on but sappy love song after sappy love song. All the singers looked more like what I would expect on MTV. Now I don’t mind a sappy love song every so often, but this was a constant dribble. So I got cranky, went out and wrote a song to make fun of it.”
Good friend Nicki Gillis sang with Bryen on the beautiful duet As Long As I Live. “Nicki and fiddle player JOHN LEE are responsible for the nickname ‘Swamp Duck’,” Bryen admitted. “We were driving home from a gig when I started talking about ducks. I’ve always liked ducks; how they look beautiful flying, they’re graceful swimming, look ridiculous walking, etc. According to them, I talked straight for about an hour about ducks.”
The album’s title track Too Cold At Home is one of Bryen’s favourite country songs. “The song takes you to a place and time; you can feel the stifling heart and the humidity. The reason it made the title of the CD is far less profound. We were going to name the album Too Hot To Fish, but the weather was cloudy, cool and overcast. So we did a different concept. Once we saw the photo with the chimney we knew we had the cover for the album. The name Too Cold At Home just jumped out as it fit the photo perfectly. Our intention was to do a photo that reflected the album name but we wound up with the photo naming the album!”
That’s typical of Bryen Willems; always open to change, but he knows a good thing when he finds it. Bryen didn’t join the Ministry, but he did become a proud Australian citizen several years ago.
TOO COLD AT HOME
Recorded at: Unit 4 Studios, Brookvale, NSW
Produced by: Gary Brown and Les Scott
Engineered by: Gary Brown, Unit 4 Studios
Mixed and Mastered by Herm Kovac at Ramrod Studios
1. Lonesome, On’ry & Mean (4:11) written by Steve Young
2. 11 Months And 29 Days (3:11) written by Johnny Paycheck and Billy Sherrill
3. Too Cold At Home (4:15) written by Bobby Lemoyne Harden
4. Deep Down I’m Shallow (4:17) written by Bryen Willems and Tim Costello
5. As Long As I Live – Duet featuring Nicki Gillis (3:34) written by Roy Acuff
6. Highway Junkie (3:10) written by Chris Knight
7. Honky-Tonk Song (3:28) written by Bryen Willems
8. Another Day, Another Dollar (2:00) written by Wynn Stewart
9. Beer And Lipstick (2:39) written by Bryen Willems
10. Baby Are You Runnin’ (2:31) written by Bryen Willems and Les Scott
11. Just A Closer Walk With Thee (2:57) Traditional
‘The Brookvalettes’: backing vocals Tracks 8 & 11 (Maryanne Burton, Shazza Gillies and Karen Willems)
Gary Brown: Tomkins Lap Steel Tracks 1 & 4 / Resonator Guitar Track 2 / Dobro Tracks 5, 9 & 10
Maryanne Burton: Backing Vocals Track 10
Travis Collins: Tomkins & Gibson SG Lead Guitars & Tomkins Baritone Guitar Track 1
Nicki Gillis: Backing Vocals Track 3 & Lead Vocals Track 5
Tomi Graso: Pedal Steel Tracks 3, 6, 7, 8, 9 & 11
Mark Kirk: Lead Guitar Track 2
Jake Lardot: Lead Guitar Tracks 3, 6, 7, 8 & 9
Greg McGrath: Drums and Percussion all tracks
Mark Oats: Fiddle Tracks 3, 5, 7, 10 and 11
Les Scott: Acoustic Guitars all tracks / Dobro Bass & Resonator Guitar Track 5 / Lead Guitar Track 4 / Backing Vocals Tracks 2, 3, 4 & 10
Glenn Skarrett: Mandolin Tracks 5 & 10
Allan Tomkins: Tomkins Bass Guitar all Tracks (except Track 5)
Bryen Willems: Lead Vocals & Backing Vocals Track 6
For interview and further details:
RUM Entertainment Ph/fax 02 4285 1461 (m) 0439 730 460
(m) 0413 153 884
Updated March 2007