CD Review: Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John
Peter Case - 2007 release
One of THE BEST RECORDS OF 2007
For starters, "24 Hours" begins the album with a song that will certainly be on the best of list at the end of the year. This song has some of the best hooks Case has conjured up in awhile, as well as his usual literate lyrics. Besides that though, this song also has the benefit of guest Richard Thompson on guitar and vocals, which really makes this a proper record.
Interestingly though, Thompson's contribution of vocal harmonies on "24 Hours" did even more to benefit the song than his fancy guitar. Thompson's guitar playing is certainly a nice bonus, but Peter Case himself is actually a pretty fair picker. He's mostly got the fancy pickin' covered. But that second voice was really critical in the mix.
This underscores the limitation of the Peter Case style. He tends to present himself in the role of lone troubador, just him and his guitar - maybe a little harmonica now and then. That's nice, and you get all that intimacy and directness and such. But he loses out that way musically for the lack of optimum arrangements, even just for basic vocal harmony singing.
Still, he gets a lot of good mileage out of that basic acoustic folky setup. "Million Dollars Bail" has been stuck in my brain a bit. I don't know that this was specifically based on the Clarkson shooting, but this story of rich man's justice has Phil Spector's name all over it.
"Underneath the Stars" stands out as actually a pretty fair legitimate pop song. I could reasonably imagine at least a relatively literate teenage rock fan digging this. Case tends to be at least halfway mindful that it don't mean a thing without that swing, keeping up a pretty strong rootsy rhythmic element - which is a critical point distinguishing him from weenie folk singers. Again, a simple vocal harmony part here really adds to the song.
Past that, frankly the compositions start running together. They're all literate and well thought out. They sound pretty good while I'm listening to them and following the storylines of the lyrics, but some of these tunes are not especially memorable as melody. I'm not remembering much of some these songs after I hear them. "Palookaville" sticks with me a little melodically, and the "Get Away Blues" is a particularly good guitar jam. They trail off from there.
I figure that scores three
excellent songs, half a dozen good songs, and maybe a couple of lesser interest.
That's a pretty fair batting average. If you dig Peter Case, you'll likely
appreciate this. Anyone interested in folk music, troubadors and such
should dig this. It's certainly better than anything Dylan's done in 20
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