Her Mystery Not of High Heels and Eye Shadow is Jonathan Richman's first studio effort since 1999's I'm So Confused. And though it is a solid offering -- another slab of Richman's pre-Beatles musings on love and wonder -- it ultimately fails to enrich Richman's oddball oeuvre.
All of the elements are here: Richman's clean, clear crooning, up-tempo sing-along melodies and sparse instrumentation. It is a great-sounding record, well-produced and sympathetic to Richman's addiction to low volume. The minimal drums are still helmed by Tommy Larkin, and two Tom Waits sidemen, Steve Hodges and Ralph Carney, provide additional coloring with percussion and tasteful woodwinds.
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Jojo's short but sweet offering is perhaps too short, even by Richman standards. Clocking in at just over 32 minutes, featuring two covers of older material and two instrumentals, Eye Shadow seems more like an EP than a long player.
The longest track, a Spanish redux of "Vampire Girl," which magically becomes "Vampiresa Mujer," is the only song to crest three minutes. The album continues Richman's flirtation with Latin musical styles, featuring four tracks in Spanish. One of these, "Con el Merengue," is the only song that sounds like something new for the troubadour. It is a tongue-in-cheek dance number featuring a hyper drum machine replete with finger snaps and thick-sounding bass.
Maybe that is part of what is missing from this harmless and well-intentioned slice of white bread. There is little that a Richman fan hasn't heard before, and even some of his strengths seem to be on the wane. With the exception of the title track and perhaps "Springtime in New York," the lyrics lack the punch that makes his better songs so special, and many of the songs fade away before they define themselves.
It may be that this album's biggest flaw is brevity. If Her Mystery Not of High Heels and Eye Shadow were five new songs thicker, it would probably be a much better recording. For now, it'll still work well as accompaniment on a lazy Sunday drive and will probably lower your blood pressure, but it doesn't reveal Richman at his best.