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JEFF LANG Whatever Makes You Happy Proper Music (2007)

Jeff Lang

'Whatever Makes you Happy' is the kind of album that rides roughshod over too many ill defined genres. Yes there are blues and rock elements here, certainly Alt. country, folk, some belated bluegrass and shades of Americana as well as strong Neil Young influences in abundance. But the real reason this album refuses to be tossed into some kind of ill fitting roots rock hybrid is because it fuses some wide ranging musical influences with some of the most potent lyrics since Tom Waits first announced himself as a newest lyric meister on the block.

So while Jeff Lang has been booked on to blues festivals this summer he will probably bemuse as many blues and folkies as he will undoubtedly mesmerise them. Put simply this album is superb whatever your cup of tea. From the opening heavy duty hypnotic rhythms of 'The Save' complete with railroad style percussion, there is no room for listener complacency.

You want an easy listen go listen to something else. This album demands your full concentration and repeated plays.

Even the easier tracks like 'Switchblade, which at times (whisper it) sounds like Billy Joel, contain the most oblique but nevertheless compelling lyrics dealing with another troubled personal relationship, delivered over a banjo and acoustic guitar accompaniment.

The Neil Young feel to the album comes on 'Alive in There' one of the best tracks on the album, and one that would fit easily into the filmscapes of say Jim Jarmusch (check out the Neil Young soundtrack to 'Deadman' as a reference point). The dobro, bass and harp accompaniment allied to Jeff's plaintive voice help conjure up a real sense of desolation - the stuff of road movies. Jeff is also seemingly unafraid to uncover the darker side of people's psyche's.

On the dark, troubling lyrics of 'By Face, Not Name' he deals sympathetically with rape, and he reverts to the first person narrative on 'You Tremble', for another lyrical twist in the tale concerning domestic violence. Jeff further evokes a sense of real sense of longing and perhaps loss on the beautifully constructed 'Rain on Troy' - a musical slice of poetry that sits atop acoustic guitar and a singing saw that sounds like a Theremin, or in the context of the song, an eerie whistle. His vocal phrasing wrings every nuan ce of the song by employing a Neil Young - 'On the Beach' - observational style. Quite brilliant!

And just when you think its all getting a bit gothic and doomy, up he pops with an almost tongue in cheek ditty, complete with a touch of irony, as he lays out the frustrations of the writer on the self explanatory 'Rejected Novelist Fails Again'.

This track finally finds room for an rough edged distorted solo, but it is still within a subtle arrangement complete with a horn section comprising Jordan Murray on trombone and Luke Farrugia on tuba. In fact there's a strong sense of dynamics throughout the album as exemplified by the acoustic led shuffle 'Slip Away', which combines dobro, acoustic guitar and double bass, with some killer lyrics that Dylan would have been proud of

'Through the week he sits looking out across the field. With a headache's grip that won't let up. Brought on by the clutter of trivial things. Still it makes him feel better when Son House sings.' Not so much a rough diamond as a sparkling effort to be discovered, Jeff Lang has cut one of the albums of the year.


Review by Pete Feenstra

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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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