Marshall Crenshaw, Jaggedland

Posted on April 6, 2010 by

Artist: Marshall Crenshaw
Title: Jaggedland
Label: 420 Records 17771, 2009
Genre: Pop / Power Pop

Unofficially, rock and roll has been around for about 55 years. in different evolutions, from rockabilly to psychedelia, from soul to funk, punk to grunge, rap to hip-hop, it has been a music of youth and rebellion. Songs about cars, love and getting into trouble were common theme; then came politics and heavier issues. Rock and roll has persevered and it also has become the backbone of contemporary pop music.

Marshall Crenshaw has been on the national scene since 1982. Prior to his self-titled debut, he cut his teeth around his hometown of Detroit before landing in a touring production of Beatlemania. He too once wrote of youthful themes. He also persevered. Twenty-seven years later, Crenshaw’s twelfth album, Jaggedland, was released. The beauty of his pop vocals are still there, his fine guitar work still exists, as do the melodic hooks, but the themes are a bit different.

This album is a very mature work but there is a contrast of simplicity. Crenshaw is able to capture a single moment in the track, “Never Coming Down.” He sings of an image of a person running on a beach and holds it in his memory as a good place to go to. It’s very simple, but that comes with the awareness of life and and how a instance can be a well of happiness.

In the song, “Long Hard Road,” Crenshaw states, “No way around it / Being you and me sometimes takes its toll.” But instead of leading us down the path of teen anguish, he continues with, “Come lay down beside me / Let the morning sunlight warm your soul.” This song in sentiment is like hearing what happened to the couple in the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” many years later.

Crenshaw’s “Passing Through” is a standout among songs about the memories and relationships. The past is what it was, the present is what it, we still exist, but the calendar pages keep turning. The vocal delivery definitely hints at sentimental, but things are really matter of fact. The palette is simple, not black and white images but more like pages of faded photographs. And they’re not always the best composed or most significant images, but they are real. These are mature sentiments and situations, not romanticized, with realistic resolutions, not melodrama.

But he is not with his youthful past either. “Gasoline Baby” is a good rock rave-up, “Stormy Rover” features guitar work from Wayne Kramer, and he drops the names of Elvis Presley ad Bobby Vinton in his lyrics. There’s even a lift of an Everly Brothers’ lyric. But the addition of some finely placed strings and vibraphone give the CD a sense of aging.

It’s these little simple little snippets of life that make up a sophisticated pop album. The transition of an artist doesn’t always work well. The man continues to put out finely crafted albums. The content is a far cry fro the sentiment of “Cynical Girl,” but with time comes memories, reflections and new perspectives. I’m grateful Mr. Crenshaw and his music continue to evolve.

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