Jimmer (Podrasky) may not be a household name, and these days he is probably not the stuff teen dreams are made of either. But if you were a fan of the John Hughes Brat Pack films of the ‘80s, you have probably seen him. Twenty-eight years ago, Jimmer and his group The Rave-Ups were the house band in Pretty in Pink (1986). In the earlier Sixteen Candles (1984), the raven-haired Molly Ringwald scrawled the band’s name into her notebook. With exposure like this, the cover of 16 Magazine seemed there for the taking.
The Rave-Ups recorded two albums for Epic after their appearance in Pretty in Pink, then Jimmer took some time off. It was 23 years off, as it turned out. He is back with The Would-Be Plans, and it is the best album I have heard so far this year. The Rave-Ups were one of the hippest underground acts in Los Angeles before Hughes put them in his film. Based on that, I kind of expected The Would-Be Plans to be a bit of retooled left coast rock. The truth is, successful comebacks are rare, especially after so long. So it was a happy surprise when I first listened to the 10 songs on this set. Each combines world-class songwriting with a dash of Americana to create a remarkable blend of music.
The tone is set with the opening “The Far Left Side of You.” This guitar-driven rocker grabs your attention, and never lets up. “The Far Left Side of You” tells a marvelous story, and the harmonica adds a dose of authenticity that hearkens back to a much different musical era. We have come too far to call anything “folk rock” anymore, yet the electric Dylan, and Podrasky’s acknowledged idol John Prine are never far away.
“The Far Left Side of You“ was serviced to radio, but I think “Empty” is even stronger. It is a little more low-key than the previous cut, but the lyrics are incredible. It was with the third track, “Big Ball O’ String” that I truly fell for the album though. The use of harmonica, banjo, and lap steel guitar is something we do not hear in pop songs anymore, but they are front and center on “Big Ball Of String.” Podrasky knows just when to add the perfect musical ingredients.
The backing band is terrific. Besides Jimmer on guitar, harmonica, and vocals, the group includes Mitch Marine (drums, percussion), Brian Whelan (electric and acoustic guitar, upright piano, backing vocals, Wurlitzer piano, accordion), and Ted Russell Kamp (bass, mandolin, acoustic guitar, lap steel, Wurlitzer piano). Kamp’s lap guitar and Podrasky’s harmonica really light things up on another of the disc’s highlights, “Satellite.”
There is so much high quality musicianship and excellent songwriting on The Would-Be Plans that it is hard to pick a favorite. If pressed though, I would have to go with the title track. “The Would-Be Plans” is Jimmer channeling Neil Young’s “Down by the River,” to incredible effect. Of course this, and the other examples I have cited are not literal, and are only used to give a general idea of what the music sounds like. Still, I have never heard anyone get as close to Young’s inimitable style as Podrasky does here.
“With This Ring” and “Fall” are the final two tracks, and both are showcases for the poetic side of the artist. The explanation for Podrasky’s absence from music for all of this time was that he was busy being a house-husband, and raising his son Chance. He was busy with many other things as well, and writing poetry was surely one of them. The care in which the lyrics are crafted is evident, and the musical backing is again superb.
As we settle into 2014, it is becoming clear that this decade will be remembered as the one in which social media took over popular culture. Back in 1999 Sugar Ray made fun of Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame by titling an album 14:59, to acknowledge that their clock was ticking. It feels like the old 15 minutes has been shortened to 15 seconds of trending today.
Thank Jimmer for my rant, because it was in listening to his latest album that I was reminded of what we are missing. The Would-Be Plans is a breath of fresh air for those of us who have been suffocating on bad product for far too long. It is only March, but so far, even if it came out last year, this is the album of 2014 for me.