Thursday, January 07, 2010

'What's So Bad About Dying?': Joe Pernice's "It Feels So Good When I Stop"

In the early 90s I fell heavily for 'alt-country' starting with Uncle Tupelo and Giant Sand; moving on to Palace Brothers, Lambchop and anything else in the genre (or close to it) especially anything released on Loose Music. One band that eluded me though was Scud Mountain Boys, despite them cropping up on several of the Loose "New Sounds of the Old West" compilations that I was buying compulsively. I just never got their sparse, brooding take on country-rock despite the critical plaudits.

Scud Mountain Boys disbanded in 1997 after just two records and leader Joe Pernice formed Pernice Brothers (with his brother Bob would you believe), releasing their debut "Overcome by Happiness" in 1998. And THIS is where I got interested.

I fell hook, line and sinker for the lush arrangements of tracks like 'Crestfallen', 'Clear Spot' and 'Monkey Suit' on that record. This wasn't alt-country - although Pernice did sound a little like Josh Rouse's older brother to me - this was glorious orch-pop, more in debt to Brian Wilson, the Left Banke and Todd Rundgren than Gram Parsons. Pernice Brothers released four more albums up to and including 2006's "Live A Little" but all has been quiet since. And then at the end of last year came "It Feels So Good When I Stop: A Novel Soundtrack".
Now it's not an album of Pernice originals (although one is planned for later this year apparently) but an album of cover versions to accompany Joe's debut novel of the same name 'a story of a deeply flawed but irrepressibly likeable hero stumbling towards adulthood, learning about heartbreak and redemption, and struggling to love and commit on his own terms'. It gets even more "Hi-Fidelity" according to Joe:
"Though the book is not explicitly about music, there are quite a few cover and fictional songs mentioned, so I thought it would be a cool idea for me to record some of those songs and release them, as a soundtrack album to the novel". Now not having read the book I can't comment on whether it is any good or whether this album 'works' as a soundtrack. But the ten songs (and three brief excerpts from the book) work pretty well as a listen in its own right.

It's a motely collection of covers spanning Del Shannon, Plush, Sebadoh, Todd Rundgren, Tom T. Hall and The Dream Syndicate but all held together by Joe's familiar weary-wistful voice and a clear affection for the material.

Not all songs and arrangements work: I find it hard to listen to 'Soul and Fire' without the deranged intensity of the Sebadoh original. However there is enough hazy swoon and romantic ache on offer to keep me more than happy. And in an astonishingly brave move, Pernice somehow makes a cover of 'Chim Chim Cheroo' (yes the chimney sweep song from "Mary Poppins") so captivating I forget the original Dick van Dyke original.

So not perfect but perfectly-good until that new album of originals comes along. And there's more - a short tour to accompany the record that accompanies the book. Joe is playing three solo shows this month (his first appearances outside North America since 2003):

26 Jan The Union Chapel, London [BUY TICKETS]
27 Jan Oran Mor, Glasgow [BUY TICKETS]
28 Jan Academy 3, Manchester [BUY TICKETS]

Not sure how much of the book is on offer on this evenings; but the music will be definitely worth catching.

Joe Pernice
It Feels So Good When I Stop [BUY]

Pernice Brothers
Overcome by Happiness [BUY]

Scud Mountain Boys
Massachusetts [BUY]

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