U Can Unlearn Guitar
Yelpco CD -2 Sun 31 LM027
My wife and I first heard U Can Unlearn Guitar at a Phi-Phenomena concert up here in our little New Hampshire town, on the top floor of a small community art collective. The group far outnumbered the audience (actually, it's entirely possible that my wife, myself and my young daughter were the audience). UCLG opened with the wonderful "She Didn't Know about Art". My wife and I looked at each other in the happy and almost simultaneous realization that the singer-songwriter form, a tradition that has seemed to me to become so moribund over the past 15 years or so that its rigor mortis had become its main argument for existence, had, in fact, a pulse.
Self-effacing, biting, all over the map, UCLG is who and where songwriting needs to be. Alternately funny, terriffying, from some other dimension, or just plain dissassociative, he sings with extraordinary versatility, aplomb, and yes, skill, without ever congratulating himself. What I like so much about this music, and so little about "contemporary singer-songwriters" in general, is that this music admits, with a smile, how simple the art form is, and how blatantly idiotic it is at this point in time for yet another bonehead with a few guitar chords to emote all over us. This honesty is just the right invitation to the loneliness, depression, sense of humor, wonder and absurdity. For all itÕs noise, agressivity, it's some of the most welcoming music I've heard in a long time.
Also, though I hate to say this, because it will no doubt embarrass UCLG: these are great songs in the most ordinary of ways. Some are quirky/funny in the Negativeland-Trubee tradition ("It's Just Chicken" is the current #1 favorite around our house, having supplanted "Man with Four Fingers"). On the other hand, "Tell Me Sumthin" and "58 Days on the Road" are strong, nasty and well-wrought; "Monkey Never Die" and "Busy Business" psychotic in the nicest way. "Mayonaisse" ... well, you figure that one out.
But others, like "Porcelain Eyes" and "Concrete Cast" are just downright beautiful (how can this be?) -- isn't this guy too scuzzy too write a verse as magnificent as:
"I broke every bone in my body, / fallin' fallin' in love with you.
All the doctors and all of their steel, / couldn't set these twisted limbs of mine,
with a hundred cords of twine/ and a full acre of pine,
couldn't set these limbs of mine"
Maybe other, more commercial, performers will discover the treasure trove of these songs, perhaps in their Òsinger-songwriterÓ imitations smoothing over UCLG's knee-jerk performances. Our loss. The songs and performances on this CD describe a unique, heartfelt, intriguing, carefully constructed world. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll go "huh"? But most of all this CD will leave you singing these songs, and wishing more "singer-songwriters" (the wonderful appropriate name of one of his previous CDs) had this kind of intelligence. Let's hope he never learns.