Verve Forecast, 2006
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/18/2006
Jackie Greene is ready for prime time -- but is prime time ready for Jackie Greene?
It's kind of an inevitable question after listening to a major-label debut this surefooted, lovingly crafted and thoroughly entertaining, that also manages to resolutely ignore the pop paradigm. Focus your mind on all that is dumbed-down, slick and artificial (American Idol, anyone?), then turn yourself around 180 degrees and behold the essence of American Myth.
Greene is the biggest thing to come out of Sacramento so far this century, a singer-songwriter with a trio of lauded indie CDs under his belt and a reputation as a stellar live performer, whether solo acoustic or with band. His signing with Verve last year was the area's biggest local success story since Cake and the Deftones broke over a decade ago.
Verve offered Greene the chance to shine before a larger audience, and he doesn't waste the opportunity. American Myth, produced by fellow roots-rock aficionado Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, is everything its title aspires to in terms of relevance, weight and pure entertainment value. Only the opening 50-second instrumental seems superfluous, but even it still does the job of setting the scene, acoustic and banjo picking out a sharp little country-blues melody that steers your expectations in exactly the right direction -- sweet-harmonied Americana that draws from multiple genres.
Greene picks up the pace with "Hollywood," a tart, drawling SoCal takedown that manages to combine the observational prowess of Bob Dylan and Jon Stewart as if they'd always belonged together ("This town is so opaque, I swear the bums are wearing shades"). I can't put my finger on how the song manages to simultaneously be sharp-edged, laconic, jangly and slinky, but between electric guitar, Hammond organ, muted trumpet and Greene's subtly shaded vocals, it does.
"So Hard To Find My Way" follows, an exuberant blue-eyed soul number the likes of which was last spotted strutting down 10th avenue on Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run. The giddy swing and full horn section almost make you forget the song starts out on banjo and dobro and grows from there.
One beautifully realized song after another follows through the heart of American Myth: the wistful ballads "Just As Well" (a sweet slice of Jack Johnson acoustic r&b) and "Love Song; 2:00 AM"; the wonderfully nuanced mid-tempo cuts "When You're Walking Away" and "Closer To You"; the dark-edged hard blues number "Cold Black Devil /14 Miles"; the swaggering, sassy Southern r&b side dish "Farewell, So Long, Goodbye"; and the surging, evocative jangle-rocker "I'm So Gone." Throughout, Greene melds blues, country, folk, gospel and rock influences, adding his perceptive, seemingly effortless lyrics and crafting an expressive new voice out of the tools passed down from past masters.
Those influences -- Dylan and the Byrds the most obvious of them -- and Greene's personal vision reach full fruition in the penultimate "Supercede." After an album's worth of four-minute wonders, Green lets loose with a magnum opus that stretches 700 words and 10 minutes, a long, twisting, genre-spanning story-song full of allegorical wisdom and flowing grace that periodically blossoms into a keening chorus full of longing. I quite literally lost track of the number of quotable quotes in this single love song-slash-rumination-slash-social commentary, but here's a taste: "The locals shout that you won't burn out if you don't ever shine too bright"; "Maria tells the fortunes, they line around the bend / A dollar for your problems, and five to know the end"; and this absolute nugget: "I'm gonna go down to the ocean, I want to fill my boots with sand / So the next time that you see me, I'll be a much more grounded man."
All that's left now is the "amens." This is new American music at its finest, full of insight, artistry and genuine soul. My advice? Don't miss it.