Thursday, April 10, 2008

Reviewing JRL Now

Contributed by Tim Groff

Jonathan Reuel opens his most recent CD release with the best track of the recording – encapsulating the project in a phrase – “We’ve all got this loneliness.” He finishes the project off with a decision in Better Yet: “Don’t you know I’m staying here with you.”

Throughout the album Reuel walks through the landscape of his life – Central Park, Covington and Camellia Drive – and emotions, loneliness, loss and love – through realities and pitfalls we’ll all recognize with some tested maturity coming through the songwriter’s script.

“We’ve all got this loneliness:” So? – What’s so special about any one young artist moaning about loneliness again? Don’t we have enough of those?

Well, Yes. But the reason the first track of this recording reaches out and grabs me by my cowlick every time I come across it up on my iPod isn’t really the lyrics at first. This song brings an old feeling back to me – something I enjoyed in the earlier music of the friend I call Jonathan. The bare bones quality of the recording – Reuel and his guitar (“Hey, I could play that”) – makes it feel like you’re sitting there at the closest table of a nearly empty coffee house somewhere in a small college town. The tone of the music and quality of his voice feels personal – up close.

After some lyrical moaning about loneliness, Reuel breaks out with some of his gripping prophetic honesty.

“God I’m sitting here with you,
God I’m pretty sure that you know what we’re going through -
The truth is, I don’t understand, the truth is we all need a hand
If we’re going to quit blaming it on you . . .”

Some of the songs on this album have cropped up from somewhere in Reuel’s medium-chaotic, part-church, half-coffeehouse road tours; which is something I can’t relate to since I have a comfortable house, a regular job and a family to come home to in a small Midwest town.

In a number of the songs, Reuel breaks out the sweet harmonica licks we remember from private evenings in dorm rooms or sparsely attended concerts in the old days.

I Went West and Camellia Drive Lullaby add a finger-plucked lullaby style that hasn’t been heard on many Reuel albums recently. The plucking isn’t flawless, but Reuel’s tour tested voice is nearly perfect as he sings as though literally falling asleep.

My least favorite song of the album was Memories and Towns. I hate songs like this. They’re like inside jokes you had to be there to get. Covington, Philly, Goshen, Millersburg, what do these towns have in common? I don’t really know, except they are a few places where Reuel has traveled over the past few years.

The final track of the album, Better Yet will hook you with the first line, “Love me now, I’m tired as a housewife . . .” Reuel unblushingly proclaims his faithful love, “Faithful as the seasons . . .” and declares: “Don’t you know I’m staying here with you . . .”

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