THE GOLDEN TOUCH

With his bare feet, faded denim shirt, a bandana hanging out of the back pocket of his blue jeans and thick red hair spilling over a headband-substitute visor – and sporting an acoustic guitar adorned with the word “Peace” – Brett Dennen looks like he could have walked into the Lobero fresh off the set of the rock musical “Hair” 40 years ago.

But whether he is an anachronism, a man born 25 years too late, or just an old soul in a young man’s body, Dennen, 26, proved a needed antidote to a tired, complicated world in his Sings Like Hell debut last Saturday night. A guileless singer-songwriter in an era fraught with bloated, overwrought rockers and feather-light pop stars, Dennen’s music comes off so non-threateningly that it creeps up quietly and insinuates itself in your heart before you even realize what’s happening.

Rather than singing, it’s more like words escape his curled lips and come out in a high-pitched rasp. The music – acoustic-folk-rock that sounds like “Graceland”-era Paul Simon filtered through any number of Van Morrison vamps – turn his conversational love songs into riff-filled dance anthems.

In a set drawn largely from his new CD, “So Much More,” Dennen turned in 75 minutes of original songs that were literate without being pedantic and hopeful without resorting to naïve Pollyanna. “The One Who Loves You the Most” details the ambitious promises of a lover’s commitment before turning the tables in a final verse that bespeaks the self-love message of “The Greatest Love of All”: “When you forgive your imperfections / and you auction all your clothes / and you look to see your true reflection / you will be the one who loves you the most.”

“Darlin’ Do Not Fear,” “Don’t You Worry About a Thing” and “When You Feel It” echoed similar themes, serving as soft but passionate in-roads to the core of relationships. Meanwhile, one of the night’s few political songs, “We’re Still at War,” was sung softly, slowly and with a whispered final line that left the listener room to ruminate rather than being bludgeoned with bluster.

Dennen’s quietly compelling songs were so infectious that he managed to do something rarely seen at Sings Like Hell shows – get the audience onto its feet and dancing, at least in the first few rows. And if his efforts at eliciting audience sing-a-longs proved less successful, chalk that failure up to the fact that it’s hard to harmonize when your mouth is agape in wonderment.

One wonders whether Dennen can galvanize larger audiences, but at least for right now, he’s so full of wide eyed optimism, faith and hope, it makes you forget your own troubles and turmoil-filled life for an hour or two. And that’s really saying something.

The Best Yet

Jackson Browne, the California-bred (as is Dennen) singer-songwriter has been mesmerizing audiences for 35-plus years now, and last Monday’s Sings Like Hell show at the Lobero proved no different. Browne played with former associate David Lindley (himself no stranger to the music series) for the first time in decades, and while Lindley didn’t sing harmony due to a bad cold, Browne himself has never sounded better. I’m tempted to call the 58-year-old ageless, but that would do him a disservice, since his singing and the depth of his understanding of his own songs have only grown stronger with age. I must have seen him in concert 20 times now, but this was truly the best yet.

Too Much

The polar opposite of Dennen – who wears only his heart and not his agita on his sleeve – Death Cab for Cutie singer-songwriter-leader Ben Gabbard let his tortured soul roam the stage of the Arlington Theatre last Wednesday. And while his frequently confessional songs can be similarly cathartic, Gabbard’s bandmates proved too loud and sloppy to make the concert memorable.