Good songs shouldn’t be difficult to find, but they
are. Instead, we focus on innovative
recordings, cross-cultural meldings, grooves, and new technologies. But songs are secondary. Will we care about the
latest Afro-beat groove band’s actual songs five years (or five months) from now?
Recall if you will that calling a band a “great live act” often says
more about a band’s limitations than its strengths. Is Randy Newman a great live act? Is Leon Russell? Maybe.
But first and foremost they are great songwriters.
I confess that I did not know Mikael Jorgensen was-or rather
is-a great songwriter. I did know-and still do-that Jorgensen is a
member of Wilco, a great live act (which also has great songs). I knew something about his “side project,”
the aptly named Pronto, but not much.
Someone from Isotope 417 was in it.
Jim Becker of Califone might have done something on it. Beyond that: Not much.
Let me now be blunt and stop beating around the bush and
just come right out with it: Fuck, these songs are good. Heartbreakingly so. Tender when they need to be. Groovy when they need to groove. Rocking when
they need to rock. All with a sense of
control that reminds on the one hand of J.J. Cale, on the other of Leon
Russell, and yet on the other (yes it’s a three handed comparison) of Stevie
Wonder. Were we really into circus
freakshow metaphors, I might offer a fourth hand (or a second third hand) for Neil
Young for there are occasional grungy rockisms here that indeed remind of the
The comparisons to Russell and Wonder are apropos and
perhaps obvious. Jorgensen is a
keyboardist, after all, and these are keyboard-driven songs. Cale for the understatement then, the lack of
pretense, the sense of control that
drives the emotional intensity but doesn’t override it. I already covered the “why Neil” question so
I’ll hit next rather than repeat on that one.
Russell, Wonder, Cale, and Young work here too in that
there’s a sense of the 1970s that abounds on this record-not because it so much
hearkens back to that magic decade but because it’s so clean of studio crappery
(a nice touch since Jorgensen is also a studio
guy). This is not “studio as
instrument” but rather “studio as tape recorder.” I think I may have forgotten that was still
Jorgensen’s partner-in-crime in Pronto is drummer Greg
O’Keefe and, perhaps slightly less so, Chris Girard and I’d be remiss in not
mentioning their contributions. But
Jorgensen is the center of gravity here, pinning everything to his vintage keys
and piano melodies and his vocals. He’s
not an immediately stunning vocalist, but with songs this good he doesn’t need
Standout Tracks: “All
Is Golden,” “Good Friends Have Gone” CHRISTIAN