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The Jazz Butcher

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In Bath of Bacon

Willie's comments: Before I begin phase two of these Jazz Butcher reviews (i.e., filling in all the gaps in his discography), I need to point out two things. One is that a lot of these albums are recorded under the name the Jazz Butcher Conspiracy, but I'm not going to make the distinction between JBC and JB here, because there really is no measurable difference. Secondly, all of the missing fragments in my collection were provided to me by an insanely kind individual who goes by the name NameDotCom. One day, he e-mailed me out of the blue and asked if I'd like for him to make me copies of a lot of Butch's out-of-print material so that I could review it, and what should arrive in my mailbox this week but nearly the entire Jazz Butcher discography? I've been tirelessly searching for these albums for like five years, so imagine my euphoric delight at finding them all wrapped up in a nice little package, with colorful slim jewel cases. My gratitude toward NameDotCom is boundless, and all he asked in return for fulfilling my lifelong dream is that I ask all of you JBC fans out there to please purchase these albums in a manner that will result in money actually getting into Butch's pockets, if possible. The label Vinyl Japan has recently started re-releasing some of the old stuff (A Scandal in Bohemia and Distressed Gentlefolk, as of this writing), and it's not only cheaper to buy the records directly from them as opposed to on eBay, but you'll be supporting one of the most talented British songwriters of the past twenty years.

Why didn't Vinyl Japan start their re-release campaign with the Butcher's first album, In Bath of Bacon, you ask? Well, presumably this is because they wanted to earn a little money from the first batch of re-releases in order to fund the next batch, and frankly, they probably wouldn't make a dime off this one. It's a magnificently stupid album. It opens with the cheesiest lounge-funk song you can imagine, with the Butcher (AKA Pat Fish, though that isn't his real name either) introducing each band member in the most obsequious manner possible: "Martin K. Daly, the Prime Minister of Funk." From there, things desend (or ascend, depending on your point of view) into smart-alecky songs about Bigfoot, food poisoning, zombies, how wonderful kittens are, and parties ("This is partytime, and it's better than a cold bath with someone you dislike"). This jovial idiocy is all a put-on, though; it's belied by the thoughtful, subtle "Chinatown," a beautiful song that is carried by Fish's minimalistic flute playing and lyrics that evoke Cold War paranoia. Even if most of the other songs sound as though the lyrics were made up on the spot (the sexy "La Mer" is a song sung entirely in French that purports to be about the sea, but suddenly veers off onto the topic of elephants), there's a hilarious twinkle of intelligence behind it all, and the music is a lo-fi treat that melds Frank Zappa's more accessible indulgences with the twee carnival folk of Split Enz's early work. If you can find it, In Bath of Bacon is slight, immature, and just this side of brilliant. Grade: B+

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A Scandal in Bohemia

Willie's comments: It should be noted at this point that the Jazz Butcher's music has nothing whatsoever to do with jazz. (To some, this will be a major selling point.) The "butcher" aspect is appropriate, however, since A Scandal in Bohemia finds the band chopping up various elements from rock history, walloping them with a surgical two-by-four, and stitching them back together in mutations that resemble some of the more whimsical creatures from the bad kid's bedroom in Toy Story. "Soul Happy Hour," for example, borrows a few lines from "Money (That's What I Want)" and inserts them into an ingratiating doo-wop arrangement, all in the service of a drinking song. "My Desert" is a stirring, anthemic waltz that skewers the pomposity of stirring anthems (think the theme to John Wayne's The Green Berets), while "Caroline Wheeler's Birthday Present" is a drunken, stomping sort of proto-punk mess that inexplicably juxtaposes Alice Cooper and Jim Morrison with rotting fish and sausages. Even if I don't care for "I Need Meat" (which isn't due to the fact that I'm a vegetarian so much as the fact that I don't like rockabilly to begin with, and less so when the song's riff is constructed from the off-kilter opening to "These Boots are Made for Walking"), that's made up for by two of the great lost singles of the eighties: "Southern Mark Smith (Big Return)" and "Real Men." The former is an airy, straightforward pop song that has one of the best keyboard lines you'll ever hear, and the latter is a hilarious rant against bullying, beer commercial machismo ("They're stronger than a sheet of metal and they're in the rugby club reserves/Buy the wife a birthday kettle/These are real men getting on my nerves"). This would not have been possible on their previous album, but Fish, guitarist Max Eider, and the new, taut rhythm section of bassist David J. and drummer Owen Jones have miraculously evolved into a polished satirical unit. It's never as off-the-hook silly as Ween or anything, but the Jazz Butcher's droll brand of genre-splicing is every bit as accessibly clever. Check it out. Grade: A

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The Gift of Music

Willie's comments: This is a slapdash collection of singles and B-sides from the Butcher's first two albums. In anyone else's hands, such a bizarre collection of songs ("Water" is a cousin to Syd Barrett's "Effervescing Elephant," "Drink" is the precocious nephew of the Rat Pack's lounge-swing fetishes, "Jazz Butcher Meets Count Dracula" is the retarded half-brother of "Monster Mash") would give you a headache, but since In Bath of Bacon and A Scandal in Bohemia were cohesive albums only in their bratty lack of a linear style, The Gift of Music fits as perfectly into the Butcher's oeuvre as Tetris blocks. "Southern Mark Smith" has stupidly been reinvented as an annoying, bouncy popster, and the alternate version of "Marnie" withers in comparison to Scandal's rendition, but they're mitigated by the new-and-improved "Zombie Love" and a killer cover of Johnathan Richman's "Roadrunner." Plus, "Jazz Butcher vs. the Prime Minister" has to be the most loony-yet-informed political rock song ever written (Fish threatens to literally consume good ol' Maggie Thatcher). There has never, to my knowledge, been a B-sides collection that didn't suffer a bit in the "substance" department, even if the songwriting was there. Never before, though, has this been turned into a bona fide asset. Grade: B+

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Sex and Travel

Willie's comments: Two months after the release of The Gift of Music, the Butcher's third proper LP revealed a newly mature band- one who had learned how to temper their goofiness with a regretful sincerity (and who was still savvy enough to dilute the sincerity with goofiness), while still keeping the tunes front and center. "Only a Rumour" is a terrific, introspective ballad about a nadir in a romantic relationship, and the mind-blowing Spaghetti Western epic "Walk with the Devil" expertly chronicles its bitter end. Less heavy but still just as subtle are "Down the Drain" (a cute Max Eider nursery rhyme) and "Holiday" (a parody of an uptight, "regular English-speaking gentleman on holiday" which lists his daily itinerary to a breathless, inflexible rhythm). In fact, only the jankly rave-up "Red Pets" is too knowing for its own good. Too short at only eight songs (I listened to the whole thing on the way to the video store and back), Sex and Travel nevertheless documents an important step in the Jazz Butcher's career: the one that lifted him above mere "novelty act" status and marked him as one of the great British zeitgeist photographers of the 1980s. Grade: A-

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Bloody Nonsense

Willie's comments: You know, the Jazz Butcher might be pushing things a bit by this point. Just 13 months after The Gift of Music (and one month before the release of Distressed Gentlefolk) comes... another compilation! Six of these 14 songs were actually on The Gift of Music! So why bother with this one? Well, if you can't find any of the previous albums (and somehow magically come across this one), all of these songs are terrific, from the infectious "President Reagan's Birthday Present" to the invigoratingly sloppy "Caroline Wheeler's Birthday Present." Also, if you're a Butcher completist, five of these songs hadn't yet seen proper release on an LP, and confound it, they're essential: "Death Dentist" is a nifty ripoff of the Peter Gunn theme, "The Devil is My Friend" is a fun stab at Hank Williams, etc. If neither of those two ifs above apply to you, though, leave this one be, because it's just mind-bogglingly redundant! Resist the urge to pick up everything that has the words "Jazz Butcher" on it just because you were unlucky enough not to have been buying records in an age where there was a glut of wonderful Jazz Butcher product. It's a trick. Grade: C+

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Distressed Gentlefolk

Willie's comments: While this album is not as consistently enjoyable as Fishcotheque or A Scandal in Bohemia, it’s still a lot of fun. Many of the songs are written in a hotel-lounge-bar-blues fashion, which effectively plays against the cynicism of songs like “Domestic Animal” and “Who Loves You Now?” And the songs that rock do so with a very particular, British wit: “Big Bad Thing” is rendered hilarious by its “Vut you vant?” shouts, while “Hungarian Love Song” is an amusing cannibalism number in the same vein as that Monty Python sketch where the sailors all insist that they be the ones eaten in case of trouble. Ballads “The New World” and “Angels” really go nowhere, however, and bland sideman Eider shouldn’t be allowed to sing, but the winners still outnumber the losers. Grade: B

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Big Questions

Willie's comments: Also known as The Gift of Music volume 2, Big Questions marks the Butcher's return to compilations that are actually worth picking up, instead of redundant cash-ins. With the exceptions of "Death Dentist" (which appeared on Bloody Nonsense) and an interminable, seven-minute version of "The Human Jungle" (from some versions of Sex and Travel), all of these songs were recorded and released in the year following Distressed Gentlefolk on various EPs. With snarky lyrical references to Brian Eno, the Soft Boys, and Peter Lorre (who gets his own infectiously stupid theme song), the better part of the album consists of intimate acoustic/synth songs performed solely by Fish and Eider. "Mersey," for example, is so despairing that it hardly matters that Fish is backed by a chintzy keyboard straight out of the song from An American Tail. From there, "Thing" is a brief snippet of heavily reverbed blues, "Rebecca Wants Her Bike Back" is another great buzzsaw rocker, "City of Night" is one of those perfect, ominous accordion numbers whose ethnic influences I can never put my finger on (these things always sound French-Italian-Greek to my ear), and the list goes on and on. These simple little songs prove that even a record full of what sound like the products of a one-night jam session can be emotional, funny, catchy, and all-around wonderful in the hands of the Jazz Butcher. Grade: B+

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Fishcotheque

Willie's comments: After Gentlefolk, the Butcher's band parted ways with him, and he hooked up with a bunch of new musicians, who took the band in a more rocking, less divergent direction. With shimmering guitars reminiscent of the Cocteau Twins (in tone only), a plain British singing voice reminiscent of Robyn Hitchcock, and hilariously smart/smarmy lyrics reminiscent of everyone from Kurt Vonnegut to Neil Finn, The Jazz Butcher, on this album, crafts some of the best dang rock songs I've ever heard. On Fishcotheque, there's a brilliant nonsense rap about chickens (sample lyric: "Chicken on holiday/ Chicken in jail/ You wake up in the morning, there's chicken in the mail"), a seductive pop song about divorce ("Get It Wrong"), and nine other slices of genius. This is actually a good place to start, if you can find it. Grade: A+

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Big Planet Scarey Planet

Willie's comments: This album leans more toward noisy rock than the good-natured pop of Fishcotheque, but that's not a bad thing. Also spicing things up are odd samples from old films and some of the Butcher's most pointed non-sequitur lyrics (most evident on "Nightmare Being": "I'm invisible, like salmonella"). "Line of Death" is a Middle Eastern rave-up that incorporates elements from Deliverance and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, while "Do the Bubonic Plague" is a funky ode to the titular disease. Catchiness a'plenty! Grade: A+

Cult of the Basement

Willie's comments: Cult of the Basement isn't quite as consistent as the previous two offerings. I say that only because of the interminable "Turtle Bait," which the Butcher himself admitted that everyone hates. Apart from that, though, this album is a bit more ballad-centric than, say, Big Planet Scarey Planet, but "Sister Death" and "Pineapple Tuesday" are two of the best ballads in musical history. "The Basement" is a wonderful surf-rock instrumental, and "Mr. Odd" is pure pop ecstasy (and there's a "Space Oddity" reference, too!). And "My Zeppelin" is just weirdness that involves Steffi Graf for no particular reason. Cult of the Basement is a strange little cruller, but a rewarding one. Grade: A-

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Condition Blue

Willie's comments: Apparently, this is an album that was made after a lot of personal pain and anguish for Butch. That might explain the lack of effort that was apparently put into the album- there are only nine songs, and one of them ("Monkeyface") is practically the exact same song as "The Basement" from the previous album, only with different samples layered overtop of it. However, the eight new songs are mostly pretty good (if overlong). They're mostly poppy tunes of the sort found on Fishcotheque, only with a slightly darker edge to songs like "Honey" and "Racheland." It's not my favorite album, but as the Trouser Press Guide to 90s Rock pointed out, "Mediocre Butcher beats the prime cuts of mere mortals anyday." Grade: B+

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Waiting for the Love Bus

Willie's comments: All you need to know about this album is that it has a song about penguins on it. Sure, there's all sorts of tunefulness and melodicism and hookery and those good things, but the most important thing about Love Bus is that it has Butch chanting dolefully, "We are penguins/ We are penguins/ We are flightless/ We are standing/ On our eggs." It makes me smile. Grade: A

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Rotten Soul

Willie's comments: After a lengthy hiatus, Butch reunited with estranged sideman Max Eider and put out this album on the Vinyl Japan label. As Eider writes in his witty liner notes, "We have nothing but good to say of Vinyl Japan, but I'm sure they won't mind my pointing out that [this album has] been made on the cheap." This is a bit of an understatement. Rotten Soul features the cheapest drum machine this side of Trio and a total lack of production (one example: the opening verse of Eider's "The One You Adore" is marred by the piercing line noise from a guitar whose part hasn't started yet). This has the unfortunate effect of making the subdued songs which make up a large portion of Rotten Soul sound as though they were performed by an above-average karaoke band. Sometimes Butch manages to transcend his budgetary limitations: the buff "Tough Priest" transcends the lo-fi nature of the proceedings by means of a killer hook and the Butcher's use of an ominous Irish accent. "Mr. Siberia" works with the cheapness of the sounds to produce a terrific slice of slow funk, but those are the only two songs that measure up to the standard set by Fishcotheque and Big Planet Scarey Planet. Some songs sound like mere demos ("Big Cats"), and some just sound sad (the ill-advised country ballad "Sleepwalking"). Mr. Eider himself is another problem. His leisurely songwriting style has never really meshed with the Butcher's aggressiveness, and while his tunes are a vast improvement on the Jimmy Buffett margarita-rock formula, they pale in comparison to Butch's. (Parrotheads would do well to seek out Eider's well-meaning solo album The Best Kisser in the World, however.) There's simply not enough joy to be had here, I'm afraid. It's a disappointing comeback. Grade: C

READER COMMENTS:

Pat Fish himself writes: Yo~ Thanks for buying so many of our records!

Muggwort writes: so I got jazz butchers a scandal in bohemia 'cause you made me ;-) and sorry to say it, this ain't my type of music; it sounds almost like a lullaby version of the fall. and taken alone that sounds great (especially considering that the fall's music is just a bunch of lullaby's!) but for me, at least, it does not work. also I really don't like the singer; I don't mind his voice I just cannot stand his pseudo-clever pop culture lyrics, something about them just bugs me up the wall. but still some of the songs (espaicailly the first one; was it a hit, I seem to rember the melody) are really catchy. C+

zaichick@gmail.com writes: thanks for the incisive reviews of once mighty Jazz Butcher. interestingly, you ignored two of his most poignant pop songs:
1. "Big Saturday" from sex & travel, and;
2. "Girlfriend" from scandal.

These two tunes along got my circle of friends worked up into fits of frenzy most friday nights on our way to the club along the freeways of southern california !!

Scott writes:When I put on a Jazz Butcher CD I know I will be entertained. It doesn't matter what mood I'm in. I will buy anything of his unconditionally. I thought his music would never translate to the mainstream. I thankfully realized I was wrong when I made as mix tape and included "Girlfriend" and played it in the restaurant where I worked. This was the only song that had everyone in the bar asking me who sung this song and where they could get it. I was shocked and very happy, but also felt bad that Pat struggled to make a living when it would only take one record company to get behind him and promote his work to have better songs on the radio and allow his audience to expand earning him a livable wage. To convert the uninitiated I would have to say one should recommend Sex And Travel, not Scandal, even though it contains "Girlfriend", "Southern Mark Smith", and "Real Men". The Sex And Travel EP captures everything that is great about the Butcher in the most accessible way, while Scandal contains a couple classics that will translate to the mainstream, but most of it will only be loved by diehard Butcher fans. As a diehard fan I am lucky enough to own, Bath In Bacon, Scandal In Bohemia, Big Questions, Distressed Gentlefolk, Fishcoteque, Big Planet Scary Planet, Cult Of The Basement, Condition Blue, Waiting For The Love Bus, Draining The Glass, The Jazz Butchers Free Lunch, Illuminate, Rotten Soul, and Cake City on CD. I also have Sumosonic on Cd, which is incredible. On vinyl I have Sex And Travel, two versions of Bloody Nonsense, Angels single (for Rebecca Wants Her Bike Back), We Love You, and Spooky. I am pretty lucky considering how many titles are out of print. The Jazz Butcher would be my favorite artist hands down if it wasn't for his finding religion. First rate songs like, "The Good Ones" are ruined by this lyrical slant. Then he compounds things by holding onto the archaic belief that humans have a soul. This concept started before science to explain human behavior because it was easier to make up a concept you could use to explain any behavior rather than trying to explain human behavior by something as complicated as the brain. The title Rotten Soul ignorantly displays this concept. I think this release is under rated, but I hate playing an album using this concept as its title. The Jazz Butcher is the only artist to also use the concept of the behavioral sink in his lyrics, giving me hope his writing will rely on observational wit based on reality more than that spiritual nonsense. I thouroughly enjoy the CD's I own by the Jazz Butcher, but I hate the fact I missed buying The Scandal In Bohemia CD when it included Sex And Travel. I also never found Big Questions and would kill for this. I also hate the fact that the Jazz Butcher CD's don't contain bonus tracks. I don't want live tracks or remixes, but there are so many great B-Sides that could have been added to these releases I would give up my right arm to get them. All in all being a Jazz Butcher fan is never boring. Searching for treasures is half the fun as the best part is getting to listen to this brilliant artist.

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JJ72

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JJ72

Willie's comments: "Anthemic" is not a strong enough word to describe the choruses churned out by this British trio. Much like those on Weezer's debut, these songs have a knack for being so simple and sticky that you can sing along with them from your very first listen. The band has a pulverizing rhythm section and a singer (Mark Greaney, who also wrote all the songs) whose throat-shredding attempts to achieve a Billy Corgan-esque whine result in something charmingly akin to a sheep bleating. "October Swimmer" in particular is the greatest slice of British rock since... well, since Coldplay's "Yellow" from last year, but it's nevertheless spectacular. Greaney's lyrics aren't anything special, and too often, songs like "Oxygen" have a certain second-verse-same-as-the-first immobility that can be irritating. Ultimately, though, I'm grateful to anyone in this day and age who actually bothers to write choruses, let alone throw themselves into the music with such force as JJ72. GRADE: B

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Daniel Johnston

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Continued Story/Hi, How Are You

Willie's comments: Daniel Johnston is a guy from Texas with bipolar disorder who records "songs" (often just melodic snippets or even just... snippets) in his house inbetween stays in the mental institution, and it shows on these two albums (joined on one CD on the Homestead label). Continued Story doesn't have much to recommend it- "It's Over" is buoyed by regular production values, and "Etiquette" is pretty funny, but Johnston's creepy, wavery voice (think Frankie Valli on ether) makes most of the rest of the tunes, including a minimal cover of "I Saw Her Standing There," rather disturbing.

The songs from Hi, How Are You are even spookier because of Johnston's voice- which threatens to devolve into an anguished wail at times- and his instability and apparently pathetic lovelife permeate the lyrics. Fortuitously, this results in "Walking the Cow," which is a truly beautiful, heartbreaking, catchy song, but the album's mood is best captured on "No More Pushing Joe Around." On that song, Johnston multitracks his voice to even weirder effect, and sings painfully personal and sad lyrics like, "I'll tell you what, sister-in-law/ I'm sorry I had to use your car/ But you were mean to me an awful lot/ You were crazy against me in your heart/ And I was wrong not to tell you that/ I let you go on thinking you were righteous!" It brought my mom to the verge of tears. It may do the same to you. Grade: C- for listening value, B+ for curiosity value.

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The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered

Willie's comments: Admiration for Daniel Johnston is sort of predicated on the William Blake-esque notion that there is no purity in art if it's polished and thought-through, and that it's impossible to achieve any sort of honesty in the semi-mainstream rock world. And this two-disc introduction to Johnston's work (one "greatest hits" disc and one disc of those same songs covered by indie-rock luminaries like Gordon Gano, the Flaming Lips, and Guster) aims to impress you with the out-of-the-mouths-of-mentally-unstable-babes innocence of tracks like "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Your Grievience" [sic], but as a guy who finds great emotional comfort in actual songs by artists like Barbara Manning and Neutral Milk Hotel (not to mention a guy who turned off the film Being There halfway through out of sheer boredom), I generally find Johnston's repetitive, underwritten man-child recordings trite and dull at best, and unlistenably amateurish at worst. Though the greatest hits disc does contain "Walking the Cow," pretty much the only one of his recordings I think is genuinely good, there's not much to convince you that Johnston is the musical prodigy that he's often made out to be. It's pretty much an hour of Daniel warbling mournfully, usually accompanied only by a hammered piano, an almost-tuned guitar, and/or some tape hiss (along with the occasional hi-fi track like the charmless pop/punk of "Love Not Dead"). Unguarded, sincere, naive, and pained, to be sure, but the mere presence of those attributes doesn't outweigh or mean we must do without such elements as tunefulness, developed songwriting, or lyrical insight.

As far as the tribute disc goes, well, there's definitely no shortage of great Johnston cover tunes out there: K. McCarty, the Dead Milkmen, Yo La Tengo, the Pastels, and Sparklehorse- to name a few- have previously spun his home-recorded skeletons into musical gold. However, Discovered Covered's tribute album is a marathon of near-constant missteps by all concerned, either by being too faithful to Daniel's originals and thus being stuck with a deadening lack of raw material (entries by Vic Chesnutt, Beck, Clem Snide, and Mercury Rev) or by simply turning out uninspired interpretations (TV on the Radio, Bright Eyes, Starlight Mints). Death Cab for Cutie and the Eels manage to bring their own captivating melodic neuroses to their performances, while Tom Waits ("King Kong") and Beat Happening's Calvin Johnson ("Sorry Entertainer") use the originals as a jumping off point for some groovy weirdo blues, but it's not worth it. Either you buy into Johnston's "genius," I guess, or you don't, and the fact that so many musicians I admire have done so suggests that, yeah, maybe I'm missing something. But from what I've gleaned so far, I can't imagine that the dubious rewards are worth the journey. Grade: C-

READER COMMENTS:

Bill Sanders writes: Somehow judging Daniel Johnston's materials using the same criteria as any other indie group just doesn't make sense. It's like worrying about overcoats for polar bears. I won't argue about the quality of his singing or instrumentation--that could be an F in just about any context. But the songs coming out of this tortured soul are in a class by themselves. I can't handle listening to Johnston; so I get his songs through other groups/individuals like Yo La Tengo (Speeding Motorcycle) or Kathy McCarty's album dedicated to his songs -- Dead Dog's Eyeball. McCarty's album was named as one of the top album's of the 1990s decade with nothing but Daniel Johnston songs. So while I'll not quibble with getting a lot from listening to Johnston doing his own material is either the stuff of a cult or listeners with a toleration level for music beyond mine; I won't budge from the fact that this guy's material is not to be missed.

I couldn't tell you what attraction that Daniel Johnston's songs hold for me. I'm really not that smart about music, but as the saying goes, I know what I like. His simple materials accompanied by banging away on the accompanying piano with his songs bleeding all over the place seem to flow out of Johnston unencumbered by either self-consciousness or an eye to the critic. His songs bounce, creep, jump, and push his angst and little joy out in his own rhythm and rhyme that touch aspects of life that have a reality all their own but echo what others experience as well but just don't play without layers of cleverness, style and talent overlaying visceral emotion.

In some reviews, he is characterized as somewhat manipulative and difficult and willing to glorify himself in anyway possible--pointing to his lifelong self-documentation with camera and recorder. Exactly. However, he's very bad at hiding it or anything else requiring a big dose of guile. Nothing smooth about Dan as he goes about slobbering out his pain, demons and perverted hope. Some of his songs are even those of a mean-spirited little child who will break a vase to get attention--even if that attention is not adoration but looking on distain and disgust. What's not to like?

THIS ARTIST HAS TENUOUS CONNECTIONS TO: JAD FAIR; YO LA TENGO

THIS ARTIST ALSO APPEARS ON: SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK ROCKS!

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Freedy Johnston

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Can You Fly

Willie's comments: This sophomore effort by jangle-folk-rock hero Johnston is nothing short of gorgeous. He doesn't do anything that hasn't been done a million times before by folks like James Taylor (who he resembles) and Chris Stamey (who does a cameo on "Tearing Down This Place"), he just does it better. This "skinny white singer," as he describes himself on "In the New Sunshine," writes homespun songs that are as intelligent as they are well-crafted. "Wheels" is particularly catchy, while "The Lucky One" is pensive and affecting. There's not much specific I can say about this album- it reminds me of a good, sturdy barn built by salt-of-the-earth folks who get true satisfaction out of what they do. You really need to listen to it. Grade: A-

Hello CD Club EP

Willie's comments: Freedy Johnston probably reached a wider audience with his score to the Farrelly brothers' Kingpin than he did with his superb albums Can You Fly and This Perfect World combined, which is a shame. Johnston's power-folk constructions are as infectious as Matthew Sweet, only his wavery voice carries ten times the emotional punch that Sweet's does. Lately, though, Johnston's albums have devolved into spare, meandering duds that are boring beyond belief, so if you can find this 1995 EP, you should pick it up. "On the Way Out" is positively rockin', while "You Get Me Lost" and an unlisted cover of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" are very pretty. If Johnston is destined to remain a cult figure like that other Johnston listed above, at least those who love him can feel that they're sharing something very special. Grade: B+

THIS ARTIST HAS TENUOUS CONNECTIONS TO: DAVE SCHRAMM, CRACKER, ALASKA

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