One thing distinguishing Harry Shearer’s satirical songs from those of many other musical humorists is the lavish production in which his wry commentary has been set. So the musicianship on his upcoming new release Can’t Take a Hint should surprise no one familiar with Shearer’s past work in This Is Spinal Tap, A Mighty Wind, or PBS radio’s Le Show. Still, the involvement of some of the folks on this release does show Shearer is upping his game, at least in terms of adding new collaborators to his performances.
Take, for example, the album’s opener, “Celebrity Booze Endorser.” Indie rock band Fountains of Wayne supports Shearer’s lyrics that are inspired by Madonna’s announcement she’d be endorsing a certain brand of booze. The legendary Jeff “Skunk” Baxter provides guitars, dobro, and pedal steel to give a country feel to the standout, “Touch My Junk.” This commentary on airport security was co-produced by Beach Boys/Brian Wilson musical director Jeffrey Foskett. Baxter also plays guitar for “Joe the Plumber” which deals with the gent who was neither named Joe nor was a licensed plumber but inspired much debate during the last presidential election.
On Can’t Take a Hint, guest vocalists are often as much actors as singers. In “Macondo,” Welsh actor/comic Rob Brydon expresses the point-of-view of the BP petroleum executive who wanted his life back after the Gulf Coast oil spill. Jamie Cullum sings the Sinatra-inspired “A Few Bad Apples” in which foot soldiers are blamed for decisions made by military higher-ups.
Glee’s Jane Lynch, who worked with Shearer in A Mighty Wind, plays a celebrity doing charity work in Africa without much follow-up in “Like a Charity.” “Your Thing” showcases Judith Owen in a song about a rather obscure topic, New York City trying to keep tourists in the city longer than one night for New Year's. Owen also plays Sarah Palin in “Bridge to Nowhere,” a topic used as a metaphor in the political arena. “Trillion Dollar Bargain” has Alice Russell and Tommy Malone doing a very credible Motown imitation in an ironic defense of the cost of the Iraq War.