Jonathan Richman @ Crescent Ballroom
In 1973, Jonathan Richman, then the lead singer and songwriter of a group called The Modern Lovers, wrote a letter to rock rag Creem after a record review that cited a lack of "masculine arrogance" in the music of The Four Seasons. "I always sigh when I hear 'Candy Girl' and 'Marlena,'" Richman wrote. "You call them 'featherweights.' They're heavyweights to me." It's easy to imagine Richman typing the note during a break from work on The Modern Lovers' self-titled debut (with former Velvets member John Cale in the producer's chair). Though thoroughly proto-punk in sound, songs like "Girlfriend" and "Pablo Picasso" broadcasted a clean break from "masculine arrogance." By the time a label got around to releasing the record in 1976, punk was just about to break, and Richman had headed off in other directions. He's been following his muse wherever she takes him, exploring romantic ballads, Spanish folk, doo-wop, country and Western, tropical, soul, and R&B with brilliant sincerity and honest verve. Along the way, he's influenced generations of acoustic guitar-strumming twee kids but hasn't resorted to saccharine cuteness (well, most of the time, at least), placing stunning poetry like "Her Mystery Not of High Heels and Eye Shadow" next to impossible-not-to-smile-at gems like "Egyptian Reggae" and "I Was Dancing at the Lesbian Bar." His latest, O Moon, O Queen of Night on Earth, is impossibly bare, like his live shows, with little accompanying his booming, earnest voice beyond a brushing snare and acoustic guitar. Like everything he's done, it's a rare sort of thing, a quietly beaming piece of work from a guy who doesn't care much for "masculine arrogance."
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