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Music Review: Pernice Brothers – Goodbye, Killer

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Goodbye, Killer is lucky number seven for the Pernice Brothers, just one of the monikers under which singer/songwriter Joe Pernice records. Killer is the first Pernice Brothers record since Live A Little and follows the solo album (mostly covers) he recorded as a songtrack to his novel It Feels So Good When I Stop.

Pernice is still at his best when he sings of heartbreak over melodies that wouldn’t be embarrassed to hang out with those composed by McCartney and Brian Wilson. “The Loving Kind” and “The Great Depression” offer the latest chapters in Pernice’s ode to endless bummers and those lowlights are the high points on Goodbye Killer. "Depression" benefits from a wonderful harmony vocal from Laura Stein. Pernice BrothersShe is a secret weapon who has served his songs well in the past, including the stunning “How To Live Alone” from the band’s best record Yours, Mine & Ours. The title track is another strong moment on the record, once again buoyed by a great harmony (it’s uncredited in the CD’s scant liner notes; it could be Stein again but I won’t swear to it) and a great, carefully placed slide guitar. The country-tinged “Newport News” is filled with precision visual wordplay and the delicate “The End Of Faith” sends the album floating off into serene, dark seas.

What do these songs have in common? They tend to be slow or mid-tempo songs with simple arrangements and great vocals from Joe, sometimes joined by another singer. No one does heartbreak quite like Joe Pernice. The trifecta of tender, expressive vocals, literary lyrics, and melodies sent from God above is in rare supply. He and Elliott Smith were the two titans. Smith was tragically taken from us too soon, leaving Pernice the sole heir to the throne.

Joe Pernice is an artist of immense talents and does many things well and does one thing great. If it were up to me, I’d probably ask him to keep his records scoped down to the area of great, leaving clever “answers” to Bob Seger’s “Turn The Page” in the form of an alt-country, Vaudevillian showtune to others. “We Love The Stage” is a really good song. I enjoy listening to it but given the choice I’m always going to reach for “Blinded By The Stars,” “Everyone Else Is Evolving,” and “Prince Valium” instead. It’s good for him to branch out and offer textured records with additional sounds and ideas, especially when you record efficient, 10-song, 32 minute records like Killer.

Every artist should be given room to create but not every artist is capable of great. Pernice is, and that’s why I have all his records and always will. Every time I encounter a new batch of his songs, I risk a collision with timeless greatness. The best moments on Killer almost reach those heights. His near misses are more compelling than the “Best Of” or “Greatest Hits” of many more famous, lesser talents.

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About Josh Hathaway