It's nice to know that you don't have to be tough to be a rock star. Not that what Tom Brosseau is playing on Empty Houses Are Lonely, or any of his records for that matter, is rock music, but the fact that Brosseau can sing songs of heartbreak and love in his fragile, whispering falsetto and sound completely legitimate is still pretty impressive. In fact,Brosseau's strength is that he willingly explores and admits his weaknesses, nearly exploiting them and himself so as to bring emotion, and maybe even catharsis, to his audience. "Heart of Mine" is inconsolably tragic and depressing, with Brosseau's quavering voice singing "heart of mine you stole from me, didn't you?/I don't want it back where it don't belong, it's not my property." He's utterly miserable, and everyone knows it. At the same time, however, Brosseaumanages to retain a bit of dignity, or at least irony: he's not completely pathetic. "Soon my heart will whither and die/what will you do with it then my dear?" he affirms at the end of the song, coming close to kind of self-deprecating last laugh. Brosseau's sincerity and his ability to describe a situation with small details work well with his simple guitar chords and melodic lines. He's clearly inspired by the storytellers of old-timey and traditional country music, and though his own stories can be a little more abstract than "Your Cheatin' Heart" or "Daddy Sang Bass" (the wonderfully dark "How to Grow a Woman from the Ground," for example, where his conversations with himself and an invented woman are interspersed with death imagery), he has that same knack for using a single line to tell an entire life. In "Dark Garage," though he doesn't say much more about Missy than that she has "cherry lips/and I can taste it when we kiss/she always has a brand-new coat of paint at her fingertips," that's enough to understand exactly who she is. The main problem on Empty Houses Are Lonely, whose tracks were all taken from earlier recordings made mainly between 2001 and 2003, when Brosseau was just starting out his career, is that the songs, most with similar melodies, instrumentation, and dynamics, have a tendency to blend too well into one another. Yes, it provides a nice consistency, but since Brosseau also makes very infrequent use of the chorus, it can make discerning the differences in the pieces a little difficult. Still, it's a good record, and highlights the maturity, sensitivity, and introspection of this young singer.