Sensuality and Trouble: Marshall Crenshaw, Jaggedland

By Daniel Garrett

Marshall Crenshaw, Jaggedland
Produced by Jerry Boys, Marshall Crenshaw, 
and Stewart Lerman
429 Records, 2009

Marshall Crenshaw has a youthful, sensuous, warm voice. It is, for me, a great part of his appeal and power. Men are often comfortable projecting sexuality but less comfortable being sensual, though sensuality has its own authority and rewards, as on Crenshaw’s album Jaggedland. “You’re always there when you say you’ll be,” Crenshaw sings in his fast-paced “Right on Time” on Jaggedland. Marshall Crenshaw has a gift for melody and tone, demonstrated by his composition with Kelley Ryan, “Passing Through,” in which Crenshaw sings, “We didn’t know it then but you and I were just passing through, passing by.” The fragile, shifting aspects of existence have found an eloquent chronicler in Crenshaw, although his voice may be too pretty for the crashing rhythms that surround it in “Someone Told Me.” “I sadly wondered, could we ever be on common ground?” he wonders after being told something disturbing, noting “so many worlds colliding” (“Someone Told Me”). Marshall Crenshaw’s voice seems an emblem of a spirit that is cognizant of, yet remains untarnished by, the world’s stresses.

In Marshall Crenshaw and Richard Julian’s “Stormy River,” a song about a volatile person, “It’s a bitter wind that’s raging in you, in you so long you no longer hear it. It sweeps across the floor of your spirit, stormy river, stormy river is you.” Crenshaw feels inclined to get away from a place in which the future looks like the past. “Gasoline Baby” has a chanted vocal, against guitar distortion and a metallic percussive rhythm. “Never Coming Down,” a recollection of a beautiful, seemingly happy woman, is an earnest ballad. “Long Hard Road,” has the theme of finding consolation in another person: “Where you are has been home always.” The composition “Jaggedland” is an instrumental with a melody and rhythm that becomes somewhat atonal.

The song “Sunday Blues,” about being anxious and alone on a rainy day, has a jazzy lightness, and an undertow that is nearly classical. There is a promise of love, a promise that is possibly too emphatic (“I’ll be right where you want me”), in “Just Snap Your Fingers,” a song with a story that may turn out to be only a dream, if not a memory of love. (I can imagine this song, which combines cheer with the suggestion of lament, being on the radio in an earlier time.) “Eventually” is a bit raucous, a contrast to the feeling of depressing discouragement, of time passing, that the lyrics describe. With a mild gallop of a rhythm, and Crenshaw’s sure vocal tone, “Live and Learn” is a long look back at life, with regrets, with lessons learned.

Daniel Garrett is a writer whose work has appeared in The African, AllAboutJazz.com, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Cinetext.Philo, Film International, Hyphen, IdentityTheory.com, Muse-Apprentice-Guild.com, Offscreen.com, Option, PopMatters.com, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, WaxPoetics.com, and World Literature Today. He has written fiction, poetry, drama, journalism, and criticism. Daniel Garrett’s web log at Blogger.com, focused on culture and society, is called “City and Country, Boy and Man.” His e-mail address is D.Garrett.Writer@gmail.com

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