Spencer Jo | My Old Home (s/r)

cd_spencer-jo.jpgHis talent as an instrumentalist and lyricist are showcased in a way that keeps his music free of distracted bravado and long solos

 

 

 

Canadian artist Spencer Jo Burgess isn’t interested in sugarcoating things. In fact, he’s spent much of his musical life searching for sour truth and throwing the spotlight onto it. He’s been in and out of punk bands since the age of 16, and the winding road has lead him to his current incarnation as a folk artist with a sometimes political, sometimes surreal edge that makes his social commentary poignant for anyone who listens. In My Old Home, we find a lyrical maturity that one expects from any veteran of an expository career in music tempered with a sensitivity that seems to empathize with the figures and subjects within each song.

Stark political statements come early with the opening track "Guantanamo Bay" and then soon after in "Babylon," both compositions that present an unveiled criticism of the so-called war on terror and its seemingly unrelated collateral effects on human lives. Glimpses of this same criticism come in the later track "Claustrophobic in Shanghai," with a pointedly lucid verse sandwiched between bizarre imagery: "Meanwhile in the west, a crazy Texan went to war/ Like a salesman, from door to bloody door/ And on his breaks, he’d fill his coffee mug with oil/ And quickly he’d get back to work to claim his dirty spoils."

Burgess isn’t all politics, though; far from it. The rest of the CD is a combination of commentary on modern society and sentimentality directed at unnamed love. The former comes to the listener first in the suicide poem "Splat, Motherfucker," narrated from the point of view of a man plunging to his demise from the top of a building. There’s a simple yet hypnotic guitar riff repeated behind the verses that punctuates the words and lends rhythm to them, and overall it’s a piece that truly outdoes the typical angst-ridden, self-nullifying poetry one cringes from inside coffee shops in big cities and the small college towns that emulate them. "Shades of Red" provides an upbeat musical backdrop to the not-so cheery subject of a young man who kills his family and then himself, and the title track "My Old Home" exposes Burgess’ roots in the seedy underbelly of urban society, giving the impression that given the choice he’d live on the wrong side of the tracks where at least one has a sense of what the real danger is.

"Lullaby" and "Let It Rain" are both unabashed songs of love—or, rather, songs that give the standard sense of some amatory loss—while "Jimmy + the Fat Cat" is a quickly paced, almost fun ballad telling of Jimmy the young junkie. Jimmy meets his demise by crossing his pusher who orders him to kill a young woman with whom he falls in love. He tries to get out of his indentured slavery but "the Fat Cat cut young Jimmy, cut him down to size."

Burgess’ debut solo album takes a minute to appreciate. But then again, it really only does take a minute. His talent as an instrumentalist and lyricist are showcased in a way that keeps his music free of distracted bravado and long solos, ensuring his convictions remain at the center of attention. The marriage of punk and folk mixes elements of artistry and honesty after all, and Burgess completes this synthesis without disappointing. B+ | Jason Neubauer

RIYL: Billy Bragg, The Weakerthans, Swamp Zombies

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