Flying Change – Pain Is a Reliable Signal

January 01, 1970

(Scarlet Shame)


Bittersweet and lovely, New York songwriter Sam Jacobs’  Pain is
a Reliable Signal
wanders through desolate hospital waiting lounges, x-ray
labs and hotel  rooms in its
consideration of love, illness and mortality. The album was inspired by a
series of events that began in 2004, when Jacobs’ wife Erica began experiencing
extreme sciatic nerve pain. Surgeries and consultations followed, at Georgetown and the Mayo
Clinic, but the pain continued.


Jacobs’ album, his third under the Flying Change name, is by
turns defiant and exhausted, jittery and delicately accepting, its restrained
but carefully considered arrangements wrapped around shards of surrealistic
shards of lyricism. His voice seems nearly always on the verge of a sigh, a bit
like Bill Callahan’s in its dark resignation. Yet the songs are in no way
depressing, but rather subtly triumphant, with bits of pizzicato violin, piano
and glockenspiel lighting up the gloom.


Jacobs has drawn together a fine assembly of jazz and pop
musicians to accompany him – pianist Matt Ray, bluegrass and jazz violinist
Antoine Silverman, Black Crowes drummer Bill Dobrow, sometime Radiohead
saxophonist Stan Harrison and trombonist Dan Levine of They Might be Giants. Songwriter
Paul Brill, who runs the Scarlet Shame label, took a hand in recording and
producing, and a couple of tracks, the gypsy stomp of “The Ways We Destroy Each
Other”, the glitch-y electro-pop of “Don’t Look Away” particularly bear his


Strong supporting musicians, full but never overwhelming
arrangements give this album its buoyancy, the upward lift that keeps Jacobs’
songs from melodrama. Consider, for instance, “Mayo Clinic,” with its sweeping,
vaguely Celtic flourishes of violin, its dense drones of accordion (that’s Rob
Burger, who has played with Iron and Wine and Lucinda Williams). The show
belongs to Jacobs. The focus never really wavers from his soft rueful voice
murmuring elliptical verses about doubt and pain. And yet there is a dizzying
triumph in Silverman’s violin solo near the end, as if music could supply what
medicine cannot, a way to overcome personal suffering.   


 There’s a good bit of
variety in Pain Is a Reliable Signal, the shout-along upbeat-ness of “If You See Something,  Say Something,”   the
bare piano, string bass and drum arrangement of “Hold My Heartache”, the
Beatles-psych guitar distortion of “St. Mary’s.”   Many
of these songs, even the faster, more optimistic ones, embed stark, striking
images from hospital life into their fabric. And yet, you come away with the
notion that this record is not really about illness and suffering, but rather
about the human connection that transcends it. Over the blistering, sun-stroked
electric distortion of “St. Mary’s”, Jacobs sings “This is a love letter,” over
and over.   And indeed, Pain Is a Reliable Signal is about love as
much as it’s about mortality. Don’t let the sad story scare you off. This is a
very fine album, deeply felt, beautifully put together and life affirming. 


Standout Tracks: “Mayo
Clinic,” “If You See Something Say Something” JENNIFER KELLY


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