Thursday, October 9, 2008

Paul Jacobsen & The Madison Arm

Let me reiterate that this is not a review blog. I like review blogs, this just isn’t one of them. That being said, I can’t help but discuss the books I read, but in that case I’m really using the blog as my own little book club. And I don’t want to review new music (music being one of my other passions). But I’m going to break down here and review an album while also engaging in some familial promotion (Paul is my cousin).

I finally got the new Paul Jacobsen and The Madison Arm CD. I had older versions of some of the tracks and had heard many of them in concert but the other day I got my first chance to hear the album in its entirety. It was a good experience. Though I really enjoyed Paul’s first CD this new one is definitely a cut above. The songwriting is professional. Paul avoids using clichés, a crutch so common among aspiring songwriters. The album also works musically.

If you don’t want to take the word of one Paul’s relatives here’s a link to a review that appeared in Salt Lake City Weekly:

But in case you are willing to take my word for it, what follows is a discussion of my favorite tracks individually (I admit that is most of them).

Time: a sweet longing melody with some great images like: “city sirens howling at red light moons.” I also can’t help but be pleased that the song mentions Ruth’s Diner, good memories.

Like a Proper Noun: This seems to be about those people that think much too highly of themselves and take themselves way too seriously, usually at the expense of others. I love the choppy electric guitar it almost forces my head to bob like those guys in the front row of a concert who are too into it to care whether they might look silly to an outside observer. I love the opening words: “haven’t you already passed the lines you never drew. All the limits you never set are all laughing back at you.”

Stupid Little Things: This song gets at the heart of what it’s like to long for someone by focusing on all of the little things you miss when you loose or are separated from the person you love, things like having someone to share the joke you just heard with.

You’re The Song: This is probably Paul’s most popular number and for good reason (great melody and meaningful lyrics among other virtues). This song is probably tied for first place with Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” as being the closest thing, for April and I, that could be considered “our song.”

Western Skies: great sound, great feel. The lyrics are also really good: “If it’s a case of grass is greener, pennies drowned the fountain dreamers just some wasted discontent some day you’re gonna wake up, wonder where your good times went.” Like his song “Stupid Little Things,” “Western Skies” focuses on the concrete rather than the general or abstract which makes the sense of longing in the lyrics much stronger

You Were: pop-craft at its best. The feel of the song rises perfectly into the chorus. It almost sounds like Phil Spector could have written it.

Anything Pecked to Death Will Die: despite the tautological statement in the title this song conveys a real message. It starts out describing Frank Abagnale Jr. the notorious con-man popularized in “Catch me If You Can.” The images and metaphors used in the song to describe Abagnale’s life rank high on the clever-o-meter. I also like the image of having “a river in a world full of thirst.”
At that Day: is reminiscent of an old-style spiritual. It seems to be looking forward to the second coming while acknowledging the troubles and sorrows that plague the earth while it waits. I’m a sucker for these old-style spirituals. They really move me and this one is no exception. I wish we had more of this spiritual music within modern Mormon culture but instead I usually have to find it elsewhere. Initially there was a great spiritual/poetic movement in Mormon thought. Eliza R. Snow’s “O My Father” probably represents the best of this era of early LDS poetics but also much of Phelps’ work, and of course William Clayton’s “Come, Come Ye Saints” all rank high on the list. But spiritual songwriting of this quality is rare among contemporary LDS (at least as far as I’ve been able to discover). I’m not counting the modern inspiration LDS songwriting, the likes of Michael McLean etc... This is probably for the simple fact that I don’t care for it. I feel the same way only much stronger about contemporary Christian rock. Especially when, to allude to a quote from the Simpsons, all they do is write a pop song but change the word “baby” to “Jesus.” In contemporary Christian/Mormon pop there is little yearning and instead a feeling that the spiritual or divine has already been attained. Consequently there is a sense of preachy-ness that pervades the praises and diminishes them. Besides, without a genuine yearning I feel that much of this music comes across as a little cheesy (that was a long way to say that I like the album’s concluding track).

My only real criticism of the album is that it took way too long to come out. He’s been working on this album for something like five years. The album was worth the wait but sometimes as Voltaire observed “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” True, quality is more important than quantity but you still need quantity. The album is perfect, or at leas very close, I just wish that Paul would crank them out a little more frequently even if a little perfection is lost. I only say this because I am about the furthest thing there is from a perfectionist, probably in a bad way. But that’s why I married one.

You can get the Album along with some of Paul’s prior work on iTunes or from CDBaby where you can also stream samples of all of the songs. I recommend getting the hard copy for the album artwork and photography which are first rate. Also, you can hear some of the tracks in their entirety on Paul’s MySpace page at


Jerkolas said...

I gave it a little listen over at his myspace page. Not bad. If I had a girlfriend I would totally give this to her.

SuiGeNeRiS Speaks said...

I have just been listening to this album from their website. Heard of them from another person's Blog (Cjane )....I seriously love it. Its SO GREAT to hear spiritual, uplifting music that is not cheesy. Thank goodness, there is still good music being made!