Blue Arrow Records
Jonathan Richman might have invented David Byrne, and if he didn’t he made a group that contained future members of The Cars and Talking Heads. And even if that group – Modern Lovers – hadn’t contained those players it would still have housed Jonathan Richman’s songs. Songs that seem to have always been around. That are playful and wise and fun – and Richman has been doing that, answering that call ever since the late 70s (he started making records in the early 70s, but there were some speed wobbles).
Ishkode! Ishkode! is his first album in a half-decade and it’s one of his finest, happiest, funniest, weirdest, most wonderful in many years. The playing thoughtful and the songs (always) engaging. It might in some sense be his most complete album. Though it seems to have arrived in a very spur-of-the-moment kind of way, formed around jams with backing singers, the songs arriving and then sticking around long enough to be pinned into place, if not fully written down.
Richman is one of those artists who seems like he could have recorded his entire output in one long weekend – saving it up, eking it out across the last 35-40 years. It would be easy enough to believe that. There are songs here that feel – in the best possible way – as if Jonathan might have written then once or twice before. Better than that he’s still working out ways to rewrite Hang On Sloopy and those R’n’B and punk and rock’n’roll jams he liked (and still loves) so much.
The title track – hinged around the chant of a word that comes from the native North American Ojibwe language – is his most infectious slice of rock’n’roll swagger since…well, since all those Parties In The USA.
There’s no dancing in lesbian bars this time, but all of these songs will tug at hems, more than that though they all have a heart and soul of their own, songs with words in English, French, Italian and Spanish, songs that feature riffs of Hawaiian guitar, little glimpses of country as well as rock’n’roll. Songs that have a glide – all of them. Songs that remind of the Violent Femmes (Let Me Do This Right! – another of the bands Jonathan might have inadvertently invented), that circle back around to the various parts of his former career/s – Outside O’ Duffy’s could be a Modern Lovers track (or some sort of Sha Na Na song by the way), But Then Ego Went Away takes us back to that mainstream-rub where Richman was the wondering minstrel across and within There’s Something About Mary and the gorgeous balladry of Longtemps – en français, bien sûr – takes us, well, to the paved streets of Richman’s romantic muse.
He’s able to do so much with seemingly so little – a few voices, his own guitar, minimal guitar. That McCoys/Bo Diddley/Velvet Underground groove is just deep inside his soul and it permeates so many of these songs.
Ending on the mystical Mother I Give You My Soul Call we have a spiritual journey through Richman’s musical pasts and towards his future. The key aspect – always – is the joy of and in creation. And here he’s made an album that is so easy to play through, and to play again and again, that it deserves to stand as a career highlight. Earnest and lovely.