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CD Review: Jackie Greene – American Myth

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Jackie Greene’s fourth album, released March 14th, 2006, did not disappoint. In fact, it was shockingly good, despite the fact that he’d been touring the songs for nearly a year. Songs that were amazing live are taken to seemingly unreachable heights. It’s a new style for Greene, who in the past, recorded solo and simplistically. American Myth strikes a chord as a collective group effort, complete with overdubs and stereo sound. With this it becomes one of those definitive “headphone records” in which the sensation grows the closer you can get to injecting it straight into your bloodstream.

Note: I bought it on iTunes, so I can’t review the artwork. For $9.99 though, Apple is selling the CD with an extra live song.

Without further ado, here’s the play-by-play:

“Intro”:
I’m a sucker for neat production tricks. The way the intro — which I can only describe as some sort of drunken blues lullaby — transitions into the first song got me giddy for the album to start. It’s an excellent precursor to an album in which the little things really seem to make a difference.

“Hollywood”:
It’s not a bad track, though I’m not sure if I would have picked it to open the album. If you entered this album fearing he may have ditched the blues, you’re immediately struck by your own stupidity. My only problem lays in the lyrics: “doing 90 on the 10?” What time was this at? Why must you mock me, Jackie? If I recall correctly, it took me 2 hours to travel 4 miles on the 10, when I went to the show on the Strip.

“So Hard to Find My Way”:
Most upbeat Jackie song to date? I think so. I’ve been singing this one in my head since I first heard it. To me, it seems like the perfect single with the cheery horns, the foot-tap inducing banjo and subtle key work. It’s got a big chorus, something that in the past, was missing from his other albums. The fact that he can pull off the energy—which seems to explode coming out of each verse—is a testament to the improvement of his voice.

“Just As Well”:
Someone on Amazon.com called this a “Jack Johnson-esque bore of a song” and I’m not sure if it’s humanly possible to be any more wrong. Aside from the fact that “Jack Johnson” and “bore” are incredibly redundant, it’s just a huge misread on the track. The artistic vision required to say “hey, this acoustic track needs some accordion” and then the ability necessary to pull it off is astounding. In terms of recording and quality, this song is just superb. When you can actually feel the smokiness of a singer’s voice, you’ve captured something special.

“Cold Black Devil/14 Miles”:
As if it were even necessary, this song stands as another example that the major label didn’t drain him of the blues. The breakdown at the end has got some of the finest guitar work on the entire CD. With the Wah pedal he brings the guitars to a screaming pitch all while maintaining the bouncing feel that powers the track. The vocals are distorted on purpose, allowing the listener to focus on the collective impact of the music, not the words.

“Never Satisfied (Revisited)”:
I’ve found myself repeating this song over and over again as I stare off into space; an obsessive musical experience that comes along only so often. The last song I did it to was “Devils and Dust.” It’s not so much that he “revisited” the track as it is pouring three years of maturity and wisdom into a song that was already profound. The twangy guitar tone and the layering give it an aural depth perceivably unreachable by “just” an acoustic guitar. When they say that “less is more”, people ignore powerful contrarian examples like this, a song in which a few production adjustments increase the power exponentially.

“Love Song, 2:00 AM”:
I could go into some analysis here, but I figure the lyrics themselves do a better job than I ever could:

“well the moon is in the mountains and the night is taking pictures of the sky
and i’ve got nothing for you, nothing but this simple lullabye”

The song then revels in this theme of simplistic beauty and whispered vocals that flow like a river to the beat. That an artist would place such a reflective low song here, instead of filler or a throw away track is refreshing and appreciated.

“When You’re Walking Away”:

This song starts out slow and dreamy but builds to one of the best on the album. It’s got that big chorus feel that, again, while uncharacteristic, is brilliant. If ever there was a song more primed for a bigger solo, this is it. It’s not to say that the one that’s there isn’t enjoyable, but every time I listen I trick myself into anticipating a different one.

“I’m So Gone”:
The guitar effects make the song. They take a pretty standard rock song and give it a modern groove without losing “his” sound. It has, without a doubt, the coolest lyric in Greene history along with some of the sharpest guitar tone. I won’t pretend to know what it means, but I sure do like it.

“Did you hear about Vegas, she’s got mouths to feed and only one hole keeps them fed? It’s starting to plague us, and it won’t be long ‘fore one of us is dead”

“Closer to You”:
One of the most chill tracks on the record. Lyrically, it’s probably the closest to a biopic since Sweet Somewhere Bound’s “Write a Letter Home.”

“you can listen to the money
you can listen to your friends
but if you listen to your heartbeat
you might never go home again”

I hope it’s not necessary that I analyze that. In reality though, it doesn’t even matter, because the lyrics aren’t what make the song great. The warm guitar tone, the rhythmic drums, and the backup vocals truly power it.

“I’ll Let You In”:
In the vein of the other acoustic songs, it takes a slow ballad, and through subtle additions, reaches a seemingly unattainable level with them. All it takes is just a few notes here and a slide there to make this piece really come alive. With headphones, it leaps into your ears, and you can absorb each iota that combine for an experience like no other. It’s soft and sweet, evoking a stare out the window, and the evaporation of the daily worries. Like the title alludes, Greene extends the listener an invitation to that idyllic world that seems to inspire his music.

“Farewell, So Long, Good-Bye”:
The horns come out again on this song, bringing the energy with them. Instead of a poppy chorus like “So Hard”, it’s got a blues grit and a rocky tone; a style reminiscent of Rusty Nail, his first album.

“Supersede”:
Clocking it at nearly 10 minutes, this is surely one of his longer songs. I think the length alone, however, testifies to his unique reign of artistic freedom, and a lack of an oppressive label. Too often, songs like these are shortened to 3 or 4 minutes, so as to make them more accessible or realize them as singles. In its entirety, the song is catchy and never drags, but if it were cut short, it wouldn’t be much more than filler. If an artist has material, why not let them see where they can take it? “Supersede” has that Dylan ramble and good natured vocal; at times you can almost hear him laugh as he sings.

“Marigold”:
I’ve had a solo acoustic copy of this song for quite some time. To be honest though, I wasn’t sure if the album would be able to improve on it. I could not have been more wrong, especially with the power of the chorus amplified drastically in this version. If you were afraid that this album didn’t have the loneliness that fuels most great artists, this track proves you wrong as well. It’s a slow, meandering piece that swells to a chorus but twice in 5 minutes. Instead of hurting the song though, this helps it, making the two stand apart with beauty and authoritarian clout.

I, for one, was impressed, with an artist who told stuck and growth-less fans to “go to hell.” Surely, the idea of artistic development is one that needs to be defended, but that’s not why I liked it. If you can’t appreciate this album, realize the difference between change and evolution, lose yourself in the beauty of hybrid mix of a no-frills simplicity and arranged mastery, then you’re an idiot. This album is fantastic, one of those destined to stay in the player long after you’ve heard it through a hundred times.

I’m not saying this album is flawless. But if the biggest critique of an album is that the artist could have ripped a few more solos, you better count your blessings. The attitude — a lack of any sort of ego — that accounts for smaller percentage of blues rockers is what powers some of the greatest tracks on the CD. The idea that band is more important than the leader is what makes “So Hard to Find My Way” such an energetic masterpiece. These songs don’t diminish the power of acoustic tracks, instead, they increase them by way of contrast. The sorrow in a song like “Never Satisfied” grows as it sits in a valley sandwiched between two peaks like “Walking Away” and “Cold Black Devil.”

It’s a wonderful collective effort, where the sum is clearly greater than the parts. This new direction is promising and inspiring, with the artist fully utilizing his own talents as well as those of his peers. I can testify that they translate well into the live show, a fact that becomes increasingly relevant for this touring fiend. I’m not sure if the single is going to chart or if it was the best pick. What I do know, however, is that this album deserves a listen and this artist, respect.

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