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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Album review: Jethro Easyfields, "Bloodletting"

Posted By on Thu, Oct 21, 2010 at 9:57 AM

Jethro mixes himself into a Petty/REM potion of rootsy rock
  • Jethro mixes himself into a Petty/REM potion of rootsy rock
With his new album Bloodletting, roots-rocker Jethro Easyfields makes a record more accessible than anything he's ever done, more polished than his recent Elixir CD, and, dare we say, filled with bits of beauty amidst his lovely ramshackle rock. Easyfields voice is one that teeters on the edge of odd, but with Bloodletting, he manages the winning trick of making the music and voice his own and also a reflection of those who made rock music before him. You also get the feeling that Easyfields' music may happily always be a work in progress, with the singer seemingly chasing, from album to album, an ever-changing sound in his head.

On this one, he again teams with producer Scott Kern to create an album that cuts a wide musical swath, working best when they lean on acoustic guitars and add surprisingly sweet harmony vocals to recall Full Moon Fever-era Tom Petty.

Jethro has been consistently idiosyncratic, in his music and his life. He's toiled on New Orleans street corners, singing his songs. He is a chef. He loves blues music. He has a beloved dog named Chelsea, who earns liner note credit for howls. His music, on this album and previous records, has careened from folk rock to space rock, likely to reflect influences of both Johnny Cash and Beck.

Kern is a sympathetic producer, able to add banjos and odd keyboards into his mix, yet rarely losing the core guitar/drums/bass anchor. The new record incorporates harmony, background and double-tracked vocals more frequently than any other album Easyfields has made, and it sounds good. The breathy-but-forceful vocals on the opening cut "Too Much Goodwill" nicely mix a violin and acoustic guitar into an eerie Americana stew, while the title cut recalls Cash and his boom-chicka-boom rhythm.

"Disobeyed", "Pay Attention" and "No Privacy" find their groove as not-so-simple pop/rock songs. "Lenny Bruce" is talking blues, and Easyfields hitches onto his inner Beck with "Catch the Trout", brimming with a certain bossa novva-ness. "The Sound of Melting" is a full-on Rubber Soul flashback.

"Beneath the Surface" employs REM chord changes and Stipe-like buried vocals to make you return for a second listen. In fact, a number of cuts on the album lead back to Fables of Reconstruction and Life's Rich Pageant versions of REM, a band whose music, like Easyfields', is glued together by a singer's sunken vocals, and the phrases and lines that dart in and out of the music.

As on those REM albums, Bloodletting has music interesting enough to make it OK to listen again.

Hear "Too Much Goodwill" - Jethro Easyfields

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