It’s unmistakeably Richman, the twangy acoustic guitar, the nasal Boston drawl and that Punk ethic. Raw and direct, but Richman has grown up and his subject matters are more serious.
Richman’s Modern Lovers were Punk before the term was first coined. John Cale produced their first album and a young Jerry Harrison got his schooling in the Modern Lovers before jumping ship to a bunch of hopefuls called Talking Heads. Richman turned his back on Punk as soon as it took off and went ‘naive’, making roots music with a massive dose of humour thrown in. Anybody recalls ‘Egyptian Reggae’? Yep, that’s Richman.
Probably the most entertaining guy you’ll ever see with just a battered acoustic guitar for company on stage, Richman is still playing his roots music, a mix of all sorts of Folky styles from around the World, like back in the late 1970’s.
Check out ‘When We Refuse To Suffer’ with its Spanish style guitar and just a hint of Percussion. Balearic Rock doesn’t come purer than this. Now compare with ‘When We Refuse To Suffer (Version 2)’, which goes back to early Modern Lovers’ days with scorching electric guitar and a streetwise Richman rap.
Lyrics-wise, ‘Because’ is a bit of a turning point. Richman always had serious messages between his lighhearted stuff, but there is a new, sombre overall atmosphere to his latest songs. He covers Leonard Cohen’s ‘Here It Is’ capably and respectfully. On his own song ‘As My Mother Lay Lying’, Richman sings about visiting his mother in an old folks home as she hovered on the brink of death. A simply gripping performance.
Even when singing about more mundane subjects, earnest appreciation has replaced Punk attitude when Richman sings about Dutch baroque painter Johannes Vermeer on ‘No One Was Like Vermeer’. The song’s a long way removed from Richman’s mid-70s classic ‘Pablo Picasso’, on which the singer fantasised how big-shot Picasso would get away with leering at girls rather than being rebuked like the song’s street punk protagonist.
‘Because’ captures Richman at his peak, accompanied only by long-standing touring mate Tommy Larkins on percussion. It will be comfortably familiar to Richman fans, but ‘Because’ also shows that Richman can still bring you to new places with his music. Rock on, Dude.
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(Photo Credit: Rory Earnshaw)