Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Silver Jews - Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea

Three Hundred Forty-Four Words: You can say what you want about the whimsy and lyrical prowess missing in Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, but what I hear is a more focused songwriter who has put together his most musically ambitious record to date. David Berman has survived depression, drug abuse, suicide, and even his own rebirth to settle into the second half of his career with a cohesive album that not only extends his musical repertoire, but it also maintains much of his lyrical mastery.

One area Berman has come into his own is in his vocal delivery. He will never compete for American Idol, but he has developed a fuller, more confident vocal presence that at times reminds of Johnny Cash and at others is the baritone to Will Oldham's tenor. He has moved from the near-spoken word of earlier work to a Nashville showman of sorts.

The band Berman has assembled for Lookout is maybe the most complete one yet. The songs feel fully realized with music that matches the complexity of his poetics. Again, to compare him to Will Oldham, this album is like when Oldham re-recorded many of his classic Palace records with the musicians and equipment he should have used in the first place. Gone is the awkwardness of the Pavement years and present are the tones of professional Nashville players.

It could be argued that Berman has lost his edge since his breakdown and that this has had some negative effect on his lyrical approach. However, I prefer to see it as an album whose music finally matches the poet's words thanks in large part to his new lease on life. Berman can now imagine his songs with a full band and not just the insular world he paints with his words.

Lookout is like many Silver Jews records. It has some filler, but mostly it's topped off with hidden lyrical gems. The big difference is that now he has entered another part of his career where the songs highlight more than just Berman's poetry. He's a truer songwriter than he ever was.

Song with vocals that most reminds me of Johnny Cash and, coincidentally, is the most confusingly titled :
"What Is not but Could Be If"

Number of former Pavement members involved in the recording of this album: 1 (Steve West)

I was planning to review this album with the Wolf Parade record, but my Insound shipment has yet to arrive. Also, I will most likely give my take on Liz Phair's
Exhile in Guyville as it celebrates its re-issue in coming weeks.

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