I've always been a sucker for good indie music. It's different, it's standards aren't as strict, not even to critics, and one needn't follow the rules on much of anything. Those, I hope I don't need to say, are positive virtues and make the hunt for such material, hidden away in the North 40, worth the labor. Yeah, there's a lot of crap there, too, but not nearly as much as you hear on the goddam charts.
Groups like Johnny Z & The Occasionals (still one of my all-time faves), the Juke Joint Jumpers, The Trouble With Larry, Ham Sandwich, the New Duncan Imperials, and Bog only knows how many other back-room ensembles have given sonic omnivores a lot of pleasurable moments and more than a few laffs. Those of us with a taste for offbeat items always keep a look-out for more.
This guy is in that line. Looking at him on the liner, you'd never guess he was a musician (aren't they all contractually required to look like Keith Richards or Eric Clapton?...or are the drugs optional?), seeming more the insurance salesman, and his material isn't what you'd call chart-exemplary of the genre, but the damned thing about Howie Newman is that he's of a Martin Mull-ish bent: a slice of, and satire on, middle America. At first, I heard traces of Jesse Winchester, then a bit of Jeff Altenburgh (Newman chooses his sessioneers well), solid Robert Kraft on the swinging cuts, and finally a frail-ish James Taylor echoing in the background, but the lyrics and approach said "Mull!"...and I love the LPs Martin put out many years ago.
To get an idea of where Newman's laidback ironic sense of things is, consider the lyrics from Please Buy My Record:
Featured on the CD is the more-than-tasty guitar work of Duke Levine, who played with Mary Chapin Carpenter and is currently gigging with Til Tuesday's Aimee Mann, though Sean Staples gives him a run for the money on a sterling bit of mando work on Snow. Recessed in the background is Paul Kochanski's unobtrusive but spot-on bass quitar. Newman's wife Jennifer joins in on some backing vocals and - Geez, I thought I'd never say this in a music review! - she and hubby, pictured in the liner, are a note-perfect evocation of a middle-American pair. Jim Gambino's piano makes me thirsty for a Beck's draft straight from the tap, and Janet Feld should step into the foreground a bit more: there's a sense of a MaryAnn Price possibility there.
Mostly, this is gently humorous good-timey folkrock with a number of cool one-liners ("you don't have to shovel rain") and mellow listenability. It won't hit the top of the charts but neither will it find its way into the pile of CDs periodically hauled down to the local CD shop or Salvation Army, nestled instead away in the second-string collection of discs one might want to hear when a desire for the more human side of the musical arts overtakes the fancy, the realm where spit and polish exist but not to a polyethylene shine. Two of Newman's tries at fairly straight takes (Thinkin' 'Bout You and Skeptical, both of which I suspect are for his wife) are the weakest cuts, while the third stab, Middle Age Love, kinda hits the mark. Goopy - a bit Dean Friedmany, a little Edu Lobo-ish - but I'm betting it'd go over well in the indie country market, it has the feel of the formula caught correctly. Nice instrumental progression in the middle eight, too. My favorite? Pushin' 30 (and this gent's pushin' a lot more than 30!), but there are several standouts.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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