Jeremy Messersmith - The Reluctant Graveyard
If the only bad thing you can say about Jeremy Messersmith is that he rips off the Beatles, at least he has the smarts and skills to rip the Beatles off better than anybody else. (And who else should he be ripping off, really?)
Long-lost Culturephile Greg introduced me to Messersmith last year, just after his most recent album, "The Reluctant Graveyard," came out. Distributed as a "pay whatever you want digital download" (my favorite model! I pay $5!) I admit that I was slow to warm to the first half of that record. (I have now warmed to it.) But the second half of "Graveyard" is an absolute smash. Whether you're into Messersmith's sweeping orchestral 60s-pop aesthetic or not, I defy anyone to listen to tracks 5-11 on "The Reluctant Graveyard" and not be absolutely charmed. Now, with the benefit of hindsight and many, many re-listenings, I am also a huge fan of the entire album from first to last. But if you want (need?) to get hooked, play the second half first. These are some catchy, jaunty songs about death. Sound tough to swallow? I guarantee you it isn't.
Like catnip to this Culturephile, Messersmith's high, crystal-clear singing voice and extraordinarily catchy, melodic songs put him slightly in the mold of a longtime Culturephiles fav, David Mead. His is a nerdy, approachable, friendly persona; picture a perfectly clean-cut Paul McCartney sporting Buddy Holly glasses. The Beatles' influence is pervasive, yet forgiveable because:
a) Jesus, who doesn't love the Beatles?,
b) come on, who doesn't want more really good music that sounds Beatles-esque? and
c) EVERYbody rips off the Beatles in one way or another, only most people don't do it half as well.
On a personal note, my wife and I tend to have slightly dissimilar musical tastes; while we agree plenty, we also disagree frequently. For instance, no bluegrass music can come within 15 feet of her. (I'm working on it.) Yet "Graveyard" almost immediately took up residence in our car, from whence it has yet to be dislodged. So it was with great excitement that the two of us decided to stay out late this past Saturday night to see Messersmith play Schubas, here in Chicago. We were not disappointed.
While I often feel that musicians and bands should feel more free to experiment with their songs in concert -- on the theory that everyone can go home and listen to the recordings over and over if they want -- Messersmith took the exact opposite tack: recreating his lush studio album in exquisite live detail. And while Schubas was probably not set up to accommodate a rock band
backed by a 3-piece (sometimes 4-piece) string section, the occasional audio/levels problem could be easily overlooked in the wall of wonderful sound. In addition to being a great singer and songwriter, Messersmith is an obviously talented musician; he even plays McCartney's famous bass.
Most of the evening centered around "The Reluctant Graveyard" -- and I confess that I also bought a vinyl copy because I just couldn't help myself from being That Guy -- but the additional songs were good enough that I've gone back to his website to pay-what-I-want for his previous two albums as well. And you ought to go pay what you can for these albums too, if you like things such as: huge hooks, grandiose tunes, lovely vocals, sweeping melodies, superb songwriting, and superior musicianship. Sound like any other famous bands you know?