Memphis is the birthplace of rock. And the best rock music, even music as hard as One Less Reason’s unique brand of literate, heartfelt hard rock, comes from the soul. That soul, as songwriter and front man Cris Brown will tell you, is the source of One Less Reason’s The Memories Uninvited.
Across thirteen years and a half-dozen albums with Cris at the fore, Jackson, Tennessee-born One Less Reason has pushed the limits of hard rock into deep and emotionally engaging territory, making music as heartfelt as it is heavy. The band’s sixth album offers a cross-section of the talents that always made One Less Reason a unique contender among hard rock acts, while revealing a newer, more contemplative vein in Brown’s songwriting.
Throughout a career encompassing work on both indie and major labels, music has been the fixed conduit between Brown’s heart and the world. “I basically record my therapy sessions,” says Brown. “I really can’t write songs when I’m super happy. One Less Reason songs tend not to be happy songs. The last few years of my life, I’ve been really happy,” he laughs. “That was the reason this album took so much longer to write. I was determined I wasn’t going to crank out songs quickly, just to put the album together. If it took me five years to do it, I was going to make sure this record sounded exactly as I wanted it.”
Brown and One Less Reason have earned that happiness through a career defined by hustle and hard work. A string of acclaimed albums and tour pairings with acts like Seether and Fuel built such solid word-of-mouth that the band’s independently-released 2010 album Faces & Four Letter Words debuted at #1 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart. Entirely without label backing, the band exceeded digital sales of 400,000 for that record, whose leadoff single, “Faces,” was featured in promo spots for CSI: Miami’s 2011 premiere.
The Memories Uninvited is the product of two years of work, during which time Brown also bought the former Kiva Recording Studio and House of Blues Studio on Rayner St. in Memphis—an address that’s now home to Tattooed Millionaire, the label Brown founded with John Falls in 2014. It’s been a period of change for Brown and company, which might be why the primary factor in making The Memories Uninvited has to do with the changes wrought by time. For the first time in his career, Brown wasn’t constrained by budgetary or studio concerns; he was able to demo the album’s songs more extensively, record them more painstakingly, and hone the arrangements until, as he says, when you hear The Memories Uninvited you’re hearing “exactly what I heard in my head.”
The result is an album that moves, song by song, from hard-hitting expressions of frustration and struggle to plaintive prayers for peace and reconciliation. Album opener “Break Me” and “On The Way Down” illustrate the former impulse, complete with shred-to-melodic-and-back vocal lines and sinister minor-key arrangements; the repeated refrain “You weren’t always like this” in “On The Way Down” somehow reaches both the anger and sorrow implicit in the song’s desperate performance.
The album’s gentler material remains rooted in heartwood, while branching out into more delicate arrangements. Keyboard-driven ballad “One Day” shows off One Less Reason’s soulful, melodic side in an aching articulation of love lost, maybe for good. The stripped-down “Rainmaker” explores similar territory in a ghostly acoustic arrangement that somehow feels as heavy and hard as the most thunderous cuts on the record.
The Memories Uninvited, then, finds One Less Reason switching up its approach across a dozen cuts that blend genres, styles, and tones. What gives the album its consistency, beyond the articulate cry of Cris Brown’s voice, is the combination of muscle and tenderness in the music. And it’s this element—the earned anger, the softness of heart—that places the album beyond the easy confines of the hard rock genre.
The balance of heart and vitriol has been Brown’s true north star throughout his career—his, and the listener’s he wants to reach. “Not everybody has tons of friends,” he says. “There are a lot of people that feel like they’re alone, and if you find music that says someone else feels the same way, that you’re not an oddball or an oddity, it’s hard to get anything better than that.”
“If I decided to stop making music after this album,” says Brown, “I could say that with The Memories Uninvited I’d said what I set out to say with One Less Reason. Not to say there won’t be more music. But I could say I’d finished all the chapters of my book. The Memories Uninvited feels like it summarizes that project. It’s brutally honest. That’s what I set out to do when I started.”