Mike Uva & The Bad Eyes – Lady, Tell Me Straight

January 01, 1970

(Collectible Escalators Music)




Mike Uva makes smart, understated pop, couching wry
observations in offhandedly catchy melodies. His songs stick around like old
friends, their warmth, accessibility and unshowy intelligence always welcome,
never overbearing. He’s in the same general family as songwriters like Salim
Nourallah, Brendan Benson (solo) and Rhett Miller, clever but not glib,
pop-skilled but never slick. The fact that he is far less well known than these
characters (who are, to a man, under-rated themselves) can be attributed to
geography (he’s from Cleveland),
personal style (low-key), family responsibilities (he has small children) and a
commitment to the DIY ethos. When he’s not recording, Uva runs the small-scale
but admirable Collectible Escalators Music.


Lady, Tell Me
is Uva’s third record, the first in
five years and the first built around his new band, the Bad Eyes. In it, he
takes a turn away from lo-fi indie pop a la Guided by Voices and towards a
warmer, acoustic, country-tinged sound. Just for starters, his bass player used
to be sometime Cobra Verde player Ed Sotelo, now it is stand-up jazz and Americana ace Matt
Charboneau. He has added piano (that’s Mike Lyford) to his guitar-dominated
sound and switched from punk-pop scramble to country twang. Pedal steel
wreathes the melancholy shuffle of the title track, while “Bank Job” rambles
through a Band-like daydream of American country rock. Lovely “California,” masses the
band’s voices in ghostly folk harmonies, and equally gorgeous “Boat Behind the
Trees” finds a transcendence in simplicity and natural imagery. “Work Blues,”
follows a spectral blues lick through shimmering mirages of piano.  


There’s a wrinkled denim real-ness to these songs, as Uva
recalls “working three jobs and not having any money,” and wanting to escape to
but not having the cash for a ticket. In “Drank Too Much Last Night,” the
album’s rough-riding, minor-key highlight, Uva starts the night with $5 and
manages to make it last through a night that touches on love, friendship, and a
love of music.  (There’s a fantastic
little electric piano solo from Lyford, too, at about the mid-point.)  Uva scrounges borrowed bills and cadged
drinks, as his guitar drives on and on, the song just about perfect in the way
it celebrates small triumphs of creation and connection in a flawed world.  


Write about music long enough and you’ll develop
a short lists of artists that should be better known, that, for whatever
reason, have never made the impact that their skill, by rights, should entitle
them to. Mike Uva is somewhere very close to the top of my list, and Lady, Tell Me Straight only confirms his
position as one of the best songwriters you never heard of.


DOWNLOAD: “Drank Too Much Last Night” “Work Blues” JENNIFER

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