Jeremy Messersmith – The Reluctant Graveyard

January 01, 1970





Jeremy Messersmith’s self-released third album handily
outperforms a whole Grey’s Anatomy compilation’s worth of Beatles-esque
pretenders. From its earliest moments – say the moment that “Lazy Bones”‘s jaunty,
piano-pounding swells into multi-voiced pop hedonism – to its melancholy
conclusion that “This is how it has to end, so love somebody while you can” The
Reluctant Graveyard
flawlessly balances joy and melancholy, intelligence
and intuition. This is one of the best pop albums of the year, and next to no
one has heard it 


“Dillinger Eyes” is the best rock song on the disc, its
slanting guitars and rolling tambourines setting an early 1960s vibe. Though
undeniably celebratory, the song, like most of the others on the disc, has a
morbid undertone. Its protagonist is shot dead in a pool hall because of a
passing resemblance to the gangster. Yet, as with many of these songs, it’s the
details, not the conceptual scaffolding that make the magic. Here, the secret
ingredient is the bass line, a “Pretty-Woman”-ish riff that starts low, makes a
vertiginous seven-step jump, then cascades down again so quickly as to miss its
starting point and correct upward again. There’s a hint of chaos, or at least
the potential for chaos, in it, yet it is repeated so regularly, so
errorlessly, that you forget the difficulty.


A taste for the baroque starts in the lyrics, but also spreads
to the arrangements. Messersmith has Dan Lawonn, a cello player, in his band as
a full-time member, and you can hear the two of them facing off on cello and
guitar near the end of “The Organ Donor.” Their interlude sounds like a Bach
cantata gone surf rock, and makes you wonder why more people don’t try this.  Lawonn arranges a full string section for
“John the Determinist,” the rhythmic criss-cross of violins, viola, cello and
bass underlining the mechanistic theme of the lyrics. Messersmith’s words are
always worth considering, but there are none finer than the first verse of this
particular song:  “People made of springs
and sparks, humming with electric hearts, hoping for a ghost inside the shell,
but if it’s there, it’s hidden well, all we are as is ticks and tocks, seconds
in a pocket watch.”


Messersmith is best when he strays farthest from the “guy
with a guitar” formula, as on rocking “Dillenger Eyes”, tango-sinister “Organ
Donor” and string-pulsing “John the Determinist.” Conventionally strummy folk
songs like “Touissaint Grey, First in Life”, “A Girl, A Boy and a Graveyard”
and “Repo Man” are too eccentrically intelligent to be boring, but they’re not
as musically gripping as some of the other cuts. Still, if you’ve spent any
time listening to Paste samplers, you know how bland and unremarkable
this kind of music can be. Messersmith makes it not just pleasant but damned
near thrilling.


{You can download The Reluctant Graveyard on a “pay
what you want” basis from Messersmith’s website (www.jeremymessersmith), so why not
check it out for yourself? )


DOWNLOAD: “Dillenger Eyes” “John the Determinist” JENNIFER KELLY



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