When you think of the New York City music scene, chances are you think of the sweaty, ripped-T-shirt post-punk coming out of CBGB's or, well, Williamsburg. Or maybe you think of the jazz scene that has been thriving here for over fifty years. Most likely, though, you do not think of folk music. Thinking about folk music, you probably conjure up images of Woody Guthrie in Oklahoma singing his dustbowl ballads. But what if I told you Woody Guthrie spent the rest of his years in Queens? Even Bob Dylan made the pilgrimage, meeting up with Guthrie and Ramblin' Jack Elliott, and sweating it out in the coffeeshops of Greenwich Village. The truth is, if you want to make it in the folk world, like with every other art, you have to head to New York. Appropriately, then, do we find the anti-folk scene of the Lower East Side, most recognizably in the Moldy Peaches and in Jeffrey Lewis, whose new album, "It's the Ones Who've Cracked That the Light Shines Through," is out now on Rough Trade.
A comic book artist as well as musician, Lewis' drawings have graced the covers of both his and the Peaches' albums. His simple and innocent artistic style makes a perfect visual companion to the anti-folk aesthetic. Like the Moldy Peaches, and the Dead Milkmen beforethem, Lewis sings simple, lighthearted songs about things like getting offered acid all the time because of a song he once wrote about LSD or how to kill ghouls (shoot the head). Lewis' childishly awkward voice and simple instrumentation are forgiven by his impressive-without-being-wanky guitar playing and his mile-a-minute vocal delivery that could make REM's "It's the End of the World As We Know It" sound like speech lessons for slow learners. On album opener "Back When I Was 4" he runs through an imagined autobiography that takes him through the age of 128 at such a clip that it's hard to imagine him getting it all in a single take. "I Saw a Hippie Girl on 8th Ave" is actually a very touching song, where he comes to realize that he can no longer indentify with the subculture that once defined him.
There are many touching moments here, which should not be overshadowed by the
goofy ones. Bob Dylan himself committed some incredibly goofy moments to wax,
but they never hindered him from being seen as an important singer and writer.
The shining moment on the Moldy Peaches' debut is wrongfully seen as "Who's
Got the Crack," which overshadows so many tender moments. It would be a
shame if beautiful songs like "Gold" or "Arrow" on "It's
the Ones Who've Cracked . . . " went ignored, and Jeffrey Lewis goes down
as the guy who sings that LSD song. Album closer "You Don't Have to Be
a Scientist to Do Experiments on Your Own Heart" is a perfect amalgam of
these two elements, a goofy way to say something sweet, or a sweet way to say
something goofy. Either way, you get the picture.
ADVANCED ALTERNATIVE MEDIA