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Music Review: Whisperado – I’m Not the Road

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Whisperado’s sophomore release, I’m Not the Road, delivers on the band’s promise of “roots-rock and Americana songs patched together from rock, country, folk, and silliness,” plus a heaping serving of smart, witty lyrics and catchy hooks.

Jon Sobel is Whisperado’s lyricist, as well as the lead vocalist and bassist. He and bandmates Patrick Nielsen Hayden (guitar and vocals), David Mills (drums), and Jeff Lampert (pedal steel guitar, twelve-string guitar, and background vocals) bring their songs to life with a lively, twangy sound and a twinkle in their eyes. This is tap-your-foot, laugh-out-loud music.

I’m Not the Road ranges from goofy (“She wants to go bowling/That’s her lover’s lane/When that black ball’s rolling/She don’t feel no pain”) to dark (“Time is nothing but a killer/Without love to slow it down/Ah but love, it runs you ragged/And it will not always find a way”), but rarely loses its levity. The humor in “Prospect Park” comes from the juxtaposition of its country music melody and the subject matter—an urban park in Brooklyn, New York. “Over You (For Now)” is funny from top to bottom, even as its narrator’s vulnerability seeps through: “Well I thought I’d get you off my mind when I lost it…/So go ahead, slam the door/I don’t care anymore/I am so over you—for now.”

The cry for freedom in “Pharaoh” for the working class is reminiscent of The Fugs (especially “Go Down, Congress,” which invokes biblical Egypt to call out political corruption), but the song is actually by another rabble rouser, Richard Thompson. Whisperado’s cover, uncharacteristically angry and desperate, surpasses the melancholy original.

 

“Insatiable Sally” wallows in two classic male fears: that women value men according to their financial success and that women are insatiable. Though these themes are ubiquitous in the arts (and appear more than once just in this album, resurfacing in “Love That Woman Blues,” which says the singer’s love of a woman “don’t matter” because he’s poor), Sobel wrings some clever lyrics out of it: “My girl shines like a golden cross/My girl soars like an albatross.” Still, the protagonist is sympathetic—he just wants “a color TV/nachos, a cat and a nice cup of tea.” To Sobel’s credit, he subverts the man-as-success-object trope in “Bowling,” which finds him singing hopefully of a time when he will earn enough to buy fancy cars, while his female partner wants nothing pricier than to go bowling.

Guest musicians contribute excellent performances to the album. Background vocalist (and Sobel’s wife) Elisa Peimer’s sweet harmonies complement Sobel’s raw vocals, and Dave Eggleston pumps up “Love That Woman Blues” with a swinging honky-tonk piano.

I’m Not the Road will be available soon at Whisperado’s website, as will the delightful video of the album’s opening track, “Teenage Popstar Girl,” a bubblegum social satire.

 

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