The Upshot: Continuing evidence of the songwriter’s uncommonly confident mastery of the pop form.
BY FRED MILLS
DC’s Jonathan Mudd hit the bull’s-eye in 2010 with sophomore platter Truth Lies, piling up power pop nugget after nugget, the musician clearly signaling that the time he’d spent in the band trenches (The Shake, Land of Giants, Jo Jo Ex-Mariner) had taught him a thing or ten about songcraft. That he’d also worked as a music critic allowed him both an objectivity towards his own material and a potentially deeper emotional attachment to classic forms than your average journeyman rocker. (In that regard, North Carolinians may additionally recognize his name from his frequent byline in Triangle publications back in the day.)
As yours truly put it in a review, “Bottom line: Truth Lies both holds its own against the classic power pop archetypes while delightfully advancing the game for the contemporary scene. It’ll make you a believer all over again in the magic, and it just might free you, too.”
On one level, then, Mudd’s new album, Evidence doesn’t depart from his signature sound. Power pop still reigns supreme on cuts like opener “Sore Heart Days,” a Tom Petty-styled number boasting an instantly memorable twinned piano/guitar riff and a punchy chorus you’ll be singing along with before the first spin is done. A couple of tracks later, “Maybe We Can Save Each Other’s Lives” puts a notable Eighties/New Wave twist on things, what with the bouncy melody and beat and a winning we’ll-make-it-if-we-stick-together-baby lyric motif. And “The Wedge” is straight-up power chord worship, fist-pumping stuff from the sinewy opening riff to the anthemic, soloing climax; the title becomes a cheeky metaphor for the narrator’s romantic prowess, at one point likening himself to an icebreaker steaming through the Arctic’s frigid waters (“I’m coming through,” he boasts, in equal parts taunt and come-on).
So Mudd’s not reinventing the wheel here. What he is doing is demonstrating an uncommonly confident mastery of the pop form, from the songs’ arrangements (dude has more hooks than a bait and tackle shop) to the glistening production that allows his guitars and Daniel Clarke’s keyboards ample space to stretch out and breathe while ensuring that the rhythm section (drummer Ricky Wise, bassist Patrick Thornton) is never relegated to background status. The album’s also a study in precision, sequencing-wise, Mudd instinctively knowing when to downshift—say, on the title track, a midtempo ballad, or on the acoustic guitar-powered “Trap the Moon”—and exploit the record’s dynamics for maximum tension and catharsis.
Ultimately, every song on Evidence is a keeper. Factor in all those gems from Truth Lies and you’ve got a guy steadily amassing a back catalog as impressive as it gets.
DOWNLOAD: “Sore Heart Days,” “17-35-69,” “The Wedge”