Thursday, January 28, 2010

Music Library: Jonathan Richman

Jo Jo!  I spent my first Valentine's Day with my lady love at a Jonathan Richman show at the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, NC.  Some people may not be as taken with Richman's persona as I am. But I'm a sucker for his blend of childish whimsy, lover-man sweetness, and blissed-out positivity.  I love the Modern Lovers, too (and I should note that while Richman continued to call his band "The Modern Lovers" well into the 80s, I have a hard time thinking of them that way), but that's a different vibe.

The Best of Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers: The Beserkley Years (1976 - 1979).  One of the first Richman albums I ever bought, collecting tracks from The Modern Lovers, plus his first four albums.

Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers (1976), Rock 'n' Roll with the Modern Lovers (1977), Modern Lovers "Live" (1977), Back In Your Life (1979), and The Lost Album Bootleg (1981). Well, I should walk back on my comment about the Modern Lovers.  The band that recorded the album The Modern Lovers had Jerry Harrison (later of the Talking Heads) and David Robinson (later of the Cars) in it.  This version of the Modern Lovers had Leroy, Curly (later replaced by Asa), and D. Sharpe, all of whom pulled off a crackerjack version of Richman's sweet, clean, and slightly weird rock & roll.  There's more highlights here than you can shake a stick at, although "The Morning Of Our Lives" has been firmly lodged in my head for a few days now.  The bootleg has a few songs from the live album and a bunch of songs that would crop up on the next few albums.

Jonathan Sings! (1983), Rockin' and Romance (1985), It's Time For Jonathan Richman (1986), and Modern Lovers '88 (1988). The first two of these are two of the best Jonathan Richman albums, period.  Both feature some of his most affecting songs.  Both have lady back-up singers, although they are far more energetic on the former.  The latter two albums are great-but-not-utterly-brilliant. This is a great period for Richman, though, where he's halfway between the juvenalia of the Beserkley years and the brutally honest adult of the late 80s/early 90s.

Jonathan Richman (1989), Jonathan Goes Country (1990), Having A Party With Jonathan Richman (1991), and I, Jonathan (1992).  The first of these has Richman shedding the Modern Lovers and accepting that he is his own man.  It's a solo album in every meaning of the word: just Jo Jo, his guitar, and a kick drum.  Jonathan Goes Country has the man with a jimcrack country band translating old and new originals and a number of covers into a near-perfect album. Highly recommended.  Having A Party is another stripped-down album that belies its name with a fairly serious look at the complexities of romance.  The highlight is a reworking of his Bermuda song from Rockin' and Romance into a monologue about how he shed his young-man angst. I, Jonathan has the man backed by a rock band that isn't trying to be nice, the first such since he reinvented himself in the late 70s, with the great songs "Parties In the U.S.A.," "I Was Dancing In The Lesbian Bar," and "Velvet Underground."

You Must Ask The Heart (1995) and Surrender To Jonathan (1996). I don't have 1994's Spanish- and French-language Jonathan, Te Vas a Emocionar!, and I don't have Richman's more recent album (there's four of them, and I'm sure I'll get around to them sometime).  These two are markedly different from each other, but they share a certain older and wiser perspective.  You Must Ask The Heart is a stunning collection of songs, some old, some covers, but most new. Surrender To Jonathan has the man reworking some of his tracks from the 80s and early 90s with only a few new songs (including "My Little Girl's Got A Full-Time Daddy Now," which sorta breaks my heart).  But it's not that great of an album.


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