Brock Zeman, a staple on the Ottawa Valley music scene, has been called a “hardcore troubadour” and hailed for the grit and power he brings to the stage as well as the talent he brings into his studio, known familiarly as ‘the Big Muddy.’
Zeman signed with Busted Flat Records about a decade ago and he’s since performed with the likes of Blue Rodeo, Steve Earle, Prairie Oyster, Lynn Miles and Fred Eaglesmith. He’s flexed his artistic muscles even further in recent years, playing the bass pedals during live shows and opening his signature recording label, Mud Records, in 2011, where he’s sharpened a keen eye for talent producing albums by artists such as Canadian author and singer-songwriter Charles de Lint, Brothers Through the Hill, Robert Larisey and Tom House.
Soon, Zeman will be touring all over North America in 2014 for his tenth record, Rotten Tooth, which he recorded at the Big Muddy. "Rotten Tooth is all about drawing outside the lines and going with your gut,” Zeman says.
“Two things that I've always benefited from. I learned an awful lot from recording Nashville singer/songwriter Tom House over the last few years and it’s led me to some unexpected places and given me some brand new eyes and ears."
Rotten Tooth comes after a series of successful recordings. His last studio album, Me Then You, released in 2012, received rave reviews. Critics said the album had a powerful sound, each song like a vignette underscored with gritty vocals and a full band production. Indie403 called it “an absolutely loveable album, almost too good to be true,” adding that his impeccably written songs are mysterious in their deep power to engage listeners. “What is it, exactly? It may be Zeman’s soulful, mature and whiskey-drenched vocals that have won the love of so many fans, or perhaps his evocative lyrics and cross-genre appeal.”
The Ottawa Sun commends Zeman for building a style that’s all his own, saying his latest album could be the best yet. “Me Then You shows Zeman stretching his wings, coming up with superb original songs and covering a wide array of styles,” the Sun writes. Exclaim! describes his track “Rain on the Roof” as a “full-blooded production that showcases an artist worth watching closely.” The Ottawa Citizen’s blog Capital Revue has said Zeman is high on the list of must-see musicians at the annual Folk Festival, where he is a regular performer.
The MusicNerd Chronicles writes that from musician to songwriter to music producer, Zeman has always blazed his own career path. “From the outset of Zeman’s staunchly independent career, his talent has guided and nurtured him,” writes MusicNerd writer Ken Kelley.
A storyteller as much as a musician, Zeman’s lifelike character sketches and the slice-of-life scenarios in his songs have been lauded for their ability to make listeners feel like they’ve dropped into a scene in a Texan bar. “He creates a setting and characters as effectively as a painter, using clear strokes to make the painting true to nature and easy to believe,” writes Nine Bullets. Wakefield singer-songwriter Lindsay Ferguson has called Zeman a “genius song writer” and “a secret that needs to be shared with the world.”
For Zeman, the song writing is organic. "Most songs are just floating about, right in front of your eyes, brushing by your ear or on the tip of your tongue just waiting to be sung,” he says. “I've been finding that the more I let the song write itself the more I enjoy the song in the end. Same goes for recording and playing with the band....and maybe everything else."