Lincoln Barr was at the helm of the great Red Jacket Mine (I loved that super-sharp, power-pop combo) and here he is, erm, steppin’ out in a way that completely makes sense with regard to his musical heroes. Where Red Jacket Mine explored the dynamic pop and roots-rock of Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson and Bruce Cockburn and co – here Barr is cast as lone crooner, offering his late night homilies against candle-light arrangements, the rainy-footstep brushwork of Calexico’s John Convertino helping to frame these 3am-of-the-soul maladies (Fond of Surprises).
Imagine Ben Folds writing and recording his own version of Sinatra’s In The Wee Small Hours – think of Costello writing and arranging for Chet Baker (as he did), take Joe Jackson’s cabaret flourishes and super-club jazz and you have some of the hallmarks and starting points here (Desperate Tormentors).
A hushed horn, a little Latin rattle across the rhythm track and the haunted nostalgia of the lyrical themes (Admit You’re A Monster, How To Escape, Fellowship of Hunted Things) makes for the sort of lovely listening where it’s about some jazzy guitar spiking through against a forlorn-but-stoic vocal. She Suits Me feels like Costello’s Alison rewritten without the hopeful energy, Memory Up And Die has some of the sound of George Michael on his Songs From The Last Century.
The writing here is exquisite – personal tales, profound, enlightening. Barr has always been a sharp lyricist but here he gets to play with setting sad songs against happy, danceable little licks and rhythms (Desperate Tormentors) or creating modern day torch balladry (Giving Up My Inheritance) that recalls Chris Cornell’s masterpiece, When I’m Down.
I’ve spent a lot of time with this very special record. And I think of Suzanne Vega’s later works, of Sam Cooke’s masterful Night Beat and of course of Costello’s one-man-arts-festival moments across so many of his post-Attractions records.