Album Review: Joe Jackson, "Rain" (Rykodisc)
Joe Jackson may be a few decades removed from the skinny-tie days of "Look Sharp!," but the fire is still there.
For "Rain," the singer-songwriter-pianist reunites with his "Sharp" bandmates--bassist Graham Maby and drummer Dave Houghton--in a stripped-down trio format, and the result is perhaps the most engaging album since Jackson's 1980s heyday. It also proves you don't need all the amplification to supply the thunder.
It's not just the classical Royal Academy of Music background that makes the songs this good; credit patience. "I wasn't in a hurry to make a new album," Jackson explains in a press release. "I promised myself that I wouldn't make a record until I had an album's worth of songs that were the best I could do. I think several of these songs are the best songs I've ever written, and I wanted to have 10 or 12 songs that I felt that way about before I put out another album. I used to be a bit of a workaholic, but I am now much more patient. The quantity has gone down, but the quality has gone up."
To wit, if you thought Jackson was allergic to filler before, the trend continues. The minimal instrumentation simultaneously rounds out the harmonic colors of a ballad like "Wasted Time," and adds appropriate punch to punkier tunes like "Citizen Sane" or "King Pleasure Time." Moreover, each song could easily stand on its own in either a solo voice-and-piano or larger group format.
The piano-bass-drums lineup works fine, though, especially on the waltz feel of "A Place in the Rain" and the amiable "Uptown Train." The latter is reminiscent of classic Vince Guaraldi or Ramsey Lewis, and shows off the fact that these are three guys who finish each other's sentences.
Much more than some classic icon of "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" fame, Jackson's throwback pedigree is equal parts pen-and-paper singer/songwriter savvy and Blue Note swing.