Michael Braunfeld’s ’40 Below’ Details the Plight of Prairie Life: Exclusive Premiere


Michael Braunfeld does not consider "40 Below" and other songs from his new album, Driver, to be political. But the Pennsylvania singer-songwriter acknowledges that they're "topical" and, as such, bring him into the realm of discourse about Donald Trump's America.

"I tend to write a lot about the struggles of the working class and people trying to get by and trying to do a little better for themselves, and are frustrated," Braunfeld tells Billboard. "I often wonder how that comes across to people."

"40 Below," which Billboard premieres the video for below, is specifically about the North Dakota oil fields and was inspired by a newspaper story about "how small-town prairie life is being overtaken by migrant workers and the trouble law enforcement is having with the demographic changes in the area."

"In the end, I hope in any of my songs people hear the human side," says Braunfeld, who also practices law in the Philadelphia suburbs. "I'm not trying to preach. I'm just trying to tell one family's story, one person's story or, in the case of ‘40 Below,’ not about just one county but how the entire country is affected."

By his reckoning, the stylistically wide-ranging Driver, which came out in March on Blind Justice Music, is Braunfeld's first full-length studio album in more than two decades. He took an extended hiatus from music between 2001-13, returning with EPs and a live album. In addition to Driver and its accompanying videos, he was also named a finalist at this year's Grassy Hill Kerrville New Folk Festival and has been touring both on his own and with his band the Boneyard Hounds. He'll be sitting in on a Writer's Night July 28 at Nashville's Bluebird Cafe.

"I'm definitely making a push with this album," Braunfeld says. "I wanted Driver to be a comprehensive collection, something that made sense as an album but still showed everything I can do with songwriting, whether it's Americana, whether it's folk, whether it's more on the record side. There's a little bit of the story songs, some more autobiographical songs. Bringing in my band and a couple of other players to flesh out the songs so they sounded like what I heard in my head was very important."

Since he had more than 50 songs to consider for Driver, Braunfeld is hoping that its successor will not take another couple of decades to surface.

"Obviously [Driver] is still brand new, so I've got some more work to do for it," Braunfeld says. "But I've got the songs and I've got people asking for them and asking for more, so if there's a way to make it happen and put out every kind of CD I'm capable of, that's what I want to do. I definitely want to put a lot more music out."