Wednesday, March 29, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1630: Jonathan Richman

It was a long day but it is now…over. Let’s celebrate with a music review to warm the cockles and restore our sense of peace with the world. Few records do that as well as this next one.

Disc 1630 is…Jonathan Sings!

Artist: Jonathan Richman

Year of Release: 1983

What’s up with the Cover?  A painting by Billy Sullivan, or so saith the credits. I find this cover muddy and indistinct and not at all indicative of the sound of the music awaiting you.

How I Came To Know It: My friend Casey played a song off this record at a night of music listening not that long ago. I liked it and it set me on a musical exploration of Jonathan Richman’s catalogue. I missed out on Richman when he first released this music, but you might say I’ve become a “modern lover” of his work.

How It Stacks Up: I have two Jonathan Richman albums and I’m on the lookout for a third. They are both solid, but I think “Jonathan Sings!” takes #1 by a narrow margin.

Rating: 4 stars

It is hard to listen to a Jonathan Richman album and not wish you could see the world the way he sees it. He has a childlike joy in everything he does, and listening to him sing a song is like an adult version of a Sesame Street episode: sunny, friendly, whimsical and sneakily educational.

Richman is indie pop before that was a thing, and while I’ve seen him referred to as post-punk I just don’t see it. Punk has a level of visceral anger that Richman has no interest in exploring. His deadpan delivery is a little like Lou Reed, but only if Lou Reed were happy as hell, and was addicted to only life’s small pleasures, and the thrill of discovering music can have three chords.

That Summer Feeling” leads things off with an exploration of all things from that season. This song is a collage of images, smells and emotions that taken together is one of the better expressions of what it is like to wander through a lazy summer day. It’s verses simultaneously explore that flood of sentiment when you recall days of summer’s past that will not come again.

There is an enthusiasm to these songs that creates an irrepressible joy. “Somebody to Hold Me” and “Stop This Car” have a jaunty delivery that had me thinking favourably of old classics like “Under the Boardwalk” mixed with a dose of Dick Dale surf.

The music is rarely serious, but still finds a way to create nuanced characters with something to say. Sure, they might seem to be saying little more than “I want a hug” or “I like going for a walk” but he does it with a carefree art that is very hard to resist. He reminds you that the simple things can also be the best things, and when they’re happening, you should be present for that moment.

The most serious he gets is “The Neighbours” which is a song about having a girl over when your wife is out. But no, not like that. Yes, Richman and his visitor walk close, and hold hands but they are literally just close friends. Is our narrator here unreliable? With most rock songs it would be a certainty, but Richman possesses such a childlike innocence you can actually believe nothing untoward is going on.

Most of all, the songwriting on this record is great, and easy to overlook given sparse arrangements and the jingly quality of the tunes Richman prefers, but he explores all sorts of different pop and folk sensibilities, bending each to his will to tell stories that are open-hearted and celebratory.

There are a couple of places where this “childlike” aspect of the record goes one step too far, particularly on “Not Yet Three” which is a song sung from the perspective of a toddler. I could’ve lived without that one, but overall I’m happy with the schlocky, sappy ear-to-ear grin of this record.

Best tracks: That Summer Feeling, This Kind of Music, The Neighbours, Stop This Car, Give Paris One More Chance

No comments: