Sam Bisbee is the kind of singer-songwriter that is constantly on the verge of breaking out. Although the big bucks are going to the Jack Johnsons and Jon Mayers of the world, the guys like Bisbee toil in obscurity for their small groups of devoted fans. In Bisbee’s case, like the criminally under-appreciated and artistically similar Freedy Johnston, salvation ended up coming from Hollywood. Bisbee placed two songs on the first season of Damages and produced and arranged Cat Power’s version of “Hanging on the Telephone” for a Cingular commercial. These successes aside, Bisbee’s recognition in no way matches his talent. His fourth album, Son of a Math Teacher, may do something about that. Bisbee again delivers a collection of clever, well-arranged pop songs for grown-ups that are more interesting than most of the playlist on adult contemporary radio.
The album starts out with the driven “Goodbye,” where Bisbee channels the confusion and resentment of a break-up both lyrically and musically. He continues this theme on “Never Fall in Love.” Guest vocalist Leona Naess brings an ethereal quality to the song that nicely balances Bisbee’s every man tone. Bisbee uses this technique again to good effect on the album’s closing number, this time pairing with Lucie Wainwright Roche. The other standout tracks, “Verge of Extinction” and “Letter B,” find Bisbee trying to get his head around putting the pieces back together.
Bisbee so convincingly portrays the ending cycle of a relationship that the only real bone to pick with Son of a Math Teacher is that the dreariness can be a little overwhelming. It could be that’s just where Bisbee’s talents lie, as “Curves of Your Body,” his one stab at a conventional love song, is the one noticeable clinker on the album. Bisbee, as he shows on most of Son of a Math Teacher, may just be at his best when he’s miserable.