Silver Jews

    Tanglewood Numbers

    9

    David
    Berman isn’t concerned with the pretentiousness or elitism that is
    deserved of brilliant artists who toil for years in obscurity but
    inevitably end up clutched in the red right hand of those far less
    deserving. I know this because on “Punks in the Beerlight,” which opens
    Tanglewood Numbers, the first Silver Jews album in four
    years, the chorus is “I love you to the max” and comes attached to ’80s
    synths and a timed, obvious finish. It’s a line that Berman is clearly
    above: He’s a published poet capable of spinning historical themes into
    his work, aware enough to throw out a liner-note shout-out to the
    Library of Congress and curious enough to ponder the plight of farm
    animals just one track later, on “Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed,”
    when he says “grass in the pasture sharper than a bayonet.” Berman
    isn’t looking to construct unnecessary barriers between his output and
    his audience. He even concedes on the banjo-picked bayou stomp of “How
    Can I Love You If You Won’t Lie Down” that “it won’t get more profound.”

    [more:]

     

    What
    he is concerned with is drinking. Lines such as “where’s the paper bag
    that holds the liquor, just in case I feel the need to puke” and shots
    of “Dixie hemlock to take care of the pain” make you wonder how he
    pulls off a stable home life with Cassie Berman, his wife and highly
    visible Tanglewood collaborator. All this fuels what
    turns out to be a proper Silver Jews rock album, which is to say it has
    the feel of a drunk snapping into his second wind long enough to belt
    out a few. That should satisfy those who may be turned off by Berman’s
    voice, although even at his most rockin’ his harmonizing shouldn’t be
    compared to anyone who doesn’t sound like Lou Reed.

     

    In
    typical incestuous Drag City fashion, it seems like the label’s entire
    roster shows up somewhere or other. Will Oldham, Azita Youssefi and
    other random players are all credited. Most notable is occasional Silver
    Jew Stephen Malkmus (Pavement’s real first album was Westing by Musket and Sextant,
    a set of singles and EPs released on Drag City) on guitar. His
    presence, had I not mentioned it, would still have been obvious to
    anyone who’s heard a Pavement or Malkmus album. It’s particularly
    obvious on “K-Hole” and as a solid accompaniment to Berman’s imagery in
    “The Poor, The Fair and the Good”: “The river winds through these
    little green hills and stays in the wood for days.”

     

    Berman,
    however, is clearly in charge of it all. His lazy drawl and word play
    are the centerpieces of “I’m Getting Back into Getting Back into You,”
    which is as breezy as the Jews get, and “The Farmer’s Hotel” features a
    decidedly terrestrial first half and decidedly surreal back end.

     

    Part
    of the Silver Jews’ intrigue is that Berman isn’t as tough a dude to
    figure out as it would seem for a guy with one of the most significant
    beards in folk (still a distant second to labelmate Will Oldham – check
    out the backside photo of Bonnie “Prince” Billy Sings Greatest Palace Hits), with a band that Jandek has out-toured by a multiple of infinity, and who intentionally overdosed two years ago.

     

    If
    you think that last line deserved a more prominent spot in the review,
    I can assure you that incident is not even remotely visible on Tanglewood Numbers.
    This is not a schmaltz-fest designed to run the same territory of every
    other addiction story. The album only feels cathartic on “Sleeping is
    the Only Love” (“Later I come to find life is sweeter than Jewish
    wine”) and in the insane pacing and desperation of closer “There Is a
    Place.” Berman “saw God’s shadow on this world” just before taking a
    hammer to the desert in his mind.

     

    Media/Links:

     

    Drag City Web site: http://www.dragcity.com/

     

    The Silver Jews on Drag City’s Web site: www.dragcity.com/bands/silverjoos.html

     

    The Silver Jews Web site: http://www.silverjews.net/

     

    The Corduroy Suit, a Web site about the Silver Jews: www.weeblackskelf.co.uk/cordsuit/

     

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