It Is What It Is ~ Reviews


It Is What It Is - Extras


A Songwriter’s Tour de Force from Michael Brewer

From the first words on Michael Brewer’s recently released solo CD, It Is What It Is, you recognize the unique tenor voice that was the signature of Brewer & Shipley, the iconic folk-rock duo whose musically expressed political commentary helped reshape social consciousness in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. While “One Toke Over The Line”, the monster hit that shot them to the top in 1971, doesn’t reflect the serious body of work the two singer-songwriters forged through
  a series of albums from 1968 through 1978, it did open the door to international popularity and steady touring that continued until they disbanded in 1980. They regrouped in 1987 and continue to perform to this day.

Brewer’s second solo album, Retro Man, was preceded by Beauty Lies, the latter featuring multiple instruments and an A-list of musicians including Linda Ronstadt, J. D. Souther and Dan Fogleberg. It Is What It Is is just the opposite. The 13 tracks, all Brewer originals, are presented with no orchestral arrangements, vocal harmonies or studio enhancements. What you hear instead is a gifted singer and his acoustic guitar delivering a tour de force of finely crafted songs about things that matter to all generations, not just his own.

Compared to the youthful passion with which he and partner Tom Shipley sang about spiritual awakening, social injustice and shredding the political veil, Brewer’s 21st Century tone reflects a more contemplative, compassionate perspective. His lyrics still take on the sins of war, ideological oppression and cultural hypocrisy, but he voices them now with a quiet conviction bespeaking a deeper understanding that life, love and hope will prevail no matter what we human beings do to ourselves.

In “Red El Camino” he sings about the loneliness a man feels seeing the woman he loves driving away, then flips the coin with “One More Day”, an almost child-like take on the joy of heading home after being long gone himself. “Bringin ‘em Back Alive” laments the all too real consequences of war and how its survivors must learn to cope with the madness, to live with the curse. “Romans In Jerusalem” compares the militant arrogance of America’s foreign policy to the Roman Empire, warning everyone knows what happened to them, while “Everything Has Changed” describes the cultural erosions within our own borders. “Winds of Change” and “Safe from The World” are finely penned songs describing the uncertain state of our declining world, both of which leave you to consider your own life against the background of humanity’s karmic dues.

The remaining tracks are like chapters from the autobiography of a trusted friend. “Dying Young” confronts what every member of the “don’t trust anyone over 30” generation now faces: growing old. “All Over Again” is about those haunting personal regrets that keep coming back, “Scarlett” a touchingly tender love ballad written to his wife, and “Tumbleweeds” a heartfelt thanks to his parents for setting his moral compass early in life.

Every note rings pitch-perfect with a purity and level of control that comforts the ear. Music lovers who value songs as works of art will find much to appreciate in this album, and it should also function as a beacon to the hordes of contemporary performers in dire need of meaningful material. Few songwriters can match the depth of Brewer’s insight, and the songs are melodically beautiful to boot.       

A favorite track for many, as it is for this writer, will surely be “The River
Runs”, a shimmering overview of mortal existence that weaves strands of
meaning from the other songs into a tapestry of summation:

The river still flows / the river still runs
It’s there in the blood and the folks we came from;
It moves through our veins / it winds through our hearts
As the babies are born and the old folks depart…
As it ends it’s only begun
As life goes on and the river runs… 

Amen, Brother Brewer. It is what it is.

Michael Cochran ~ April 30, 2010


Writer of the authorized biographies of Chet Atkins and Les Paul, Michael Cochran
is now at work on the life story of singer-songwriter Don McLean.

  David M. Day

A critical review of Michael Brewer's It Is What It Is written form an informed perspective by one who has heard all these songs performed live many times, and before the release of this CD.

Michael Brewer’s new solo cd to be officially released April 3, 2010 at Reed Springs, MO is truly (just like Michael himself) literally and metaphorically a mixed bag.  I had the opportunity to hear all of these songs (and a few more) at Mountain Music in Mission Kansas, The Old Fire House in Springfield, MO, The Stone House in Reed Springs, MO, The Blue Door in Oklahoma City and at the Focal Point in St. Louis.

It Is What It Is ..... is much more than it seems.  This solo work is a mixed bag of deeply personal songs and piquant social commentary as well.  It is a must have for anyone who remains an audiophile of past and contemporary folk and folk/rock music.  Unlike Michael’s last solo work, Retro Man, he shares with us vivid and deeply personal sentiments that have been rooted and evolved within his long-time relationship with Scarlett.  Thank you, Scarlett, for all of the luster and  inspirational genius that you have provided to Michael and us!  You are definitely the sine qua non of this masterpiece from that .... "Red El Camino" ( ..... a Grandbaby and a dog named Jake),  to "One More Day" and "Scarlett" (which includes fabulous & romantic chord progressions).

Along with these cathartic Scarlett songs (Red Feather Boa excluded from this cd?) and songs that reflect the wisdom of family and aging are a plethora of songs that live up to and even go beyond the examples of Michael’s previous penchant, commitment and natural proclivities for trenchant social commentary.  Even though Tom Shipley himself told me in person during a very, very late ?night?/wee hr. discussion in Kent, OH that he thinks "Bringin’em Back Alive" is  “....  the best song on the cd;” I must, with all due respect, disagree with him on this one.

Even though Tom may hopefully be planning to produce a video to accompany "Bringin’em Back Alive" that I await with great expectation (shots from Little Big Horn, WWII, ‘Nam, Iraq et alia may be included); The "Romans in Jerusalem" is the single best example and effort of social commentary in a folk music medium in the past thirty-nine (39) years by anyone (not just Michael) including the great Bob Dylan.  Yes, Michael, definitely .....  Bob can’t hold a candle to Your singing OR writing on this one!! ‘Romans’ is a masterpiece within a masterpiece and it is my personal opinion as a guitar player and folk audiophile that many, ... many people have received Grammies and gold/platinum record sales for far, far less effort and talent.  It Is What It Is .... is worth buying just for the "Romans in Jerusalem" cut.  The ‘Romans’ cut is intellectually current, but is ironically crafted so as never ever to become dated!  Now, that is musical and poetic genius for sure.  Really high brow stuff from Michael, but that’s just the bag he is in!

It Is What It Is ....  is a masterpiece not only because Michael walked into a recording studio totally solo with nothing but a guitar and some ‘notes.’  He also gave to us, the listening and viewing audience, a genuine and truly live performance on record of these songs.  This collection of words and music represents examples of deeply personal artistic expression that he has been forming for decades as well as work that is as current as his commitment to peace and justice.  Also, included is exceptional photography and design for the cd cover front and back.  Michael and Barbra Wiseman really have a talent for capturing the ‘spirit’ of the moment and taking us intothelight! 

On the negative side, however, I  have only one problem with It Is What It Is.  From a technical standpoint, there is a random and infrequent recurring problem of guitar fret buzz on a couple of songs.  This factor tends to detract from the otherwise technically proficient character, refinement and tone of some of the songs.  This problem is, unfortunately,  most noticeable on Red El Camino.  It is odd to hear it in a recording, because I have attended scores of live Brewer and Brewer and Shipley shows and I have never noticed it before.  I also have never heard it on any of the vinyl or cd recordings that I and Renee have (and we have virtually everything there is).

Michael, maybe you need to twist the truss rod one-half of a turn to the right on that old guitar.

David M. Day ~ April 2, 2010

  Len Jaffe  

For those of you who might not know by now, Michael Brewer, half of the wonderful Brewer & Shipley duo, has had a solo career for years paralleling his partnership.  His first solo effort, the out of print “Beauty Lies” set that was produced by the late Dan Fogelberg, is still sought after by those who want to hear it.  Five years ago, Michael released “Retro Man”, an album that, at least for me, was instantly likeable, and featured members of Michael’s family on much of the album.  His third and most recent outing, the just released and all-original It Is What It Is, strips away all the high-tech production and leaves the listener enjoying only Michael’s vocals and acoustic guitar.  The songs are strong enough that no other production is even necessary, and it’s definitely a case of “what you hear is what you get”.

Recorded in the fall of 2009 by Gary Smith at the Nottingham Studio in Springfield, Missouri, Michael’s vocals and guitar work complement each other perfectly.  Whether strumming or finger-picking the accompaniment to a finely crafted song, everything just seems to work, making for a totally enjoyable listening experience.

Michael kicks off this album with “Red El Camino”, a medium-tempo toe-tapper about losing the object of one’s affection for a time, then finding it again. “Bringing ‘Em Back Alive”, arguably one of the strongest songs on the set and a personal favorite of mine, documents not only the course of war that is in today’s headlines, but all wars.  The ragtime tinged “One More Day” comes next, followed by another of the stronger tunes, “Romans In Jerusalem”, this time a broader historical document.  “Everything Has Changed” reflects how much different our lives have become, certainly since September 11, 2001, but with computers essentially running the world, probably more profoundly long before that date.  After “Winds Of Change” with a theme similar to a couple of previous songs, Michael offers “Dying Young”, an ode to aging not so gracefully.  Michael’s lovely lady is given her own song tribute, “Scarlett”, to which he transitions into a song of thanksgiving, “Safe From The World”.  “All Over Again” provides a look backward, “Who Do You Love” questions what is going on now, and “The River Runs” not only gives the listener a look towards tomorrow, but the opportunity to realize that the more things change, the more things stay the same, in many respects.  Michael closes the album with the biographical “Tumbleweeds”, which pays homage to his roots.

By the way, the package is adorned with the magnificent photography of Michael and Barbra Wiseman, a pair of Brewer & Shipley’s most ardent of fans, and certainly two of the finest portrait photographers whose pictures you will ever see.  Check out their work when you have a chance on their website,, when you have a chance.  Their art also speaks for itself.  

The production here is very spare…again, just guitar and vocal.  However, the songs AND Michael’s execution of them more than make up for what is not here, and in most cases, not necessary.  I’ve had the chance to listen to “IIWII” for about a month now, and every time I hear it, I like it better.  I think you will, too.

Thank you, Michael.  This is a gem.

Len Jaffe ~ January 21, 2010




It Is What It Is available at

It Is What It Is