Joe Pernice’s latest release, Chappaquiddick Sideline is a blue recording. Literally, as he croons on the opening track, “I hate my life…,” I feel his frustration and stand in his forlorn shoes. Joe Pernice, from his recordings with the Scud Mountain Boys and the Pernice Brothers, has earned a reputation as one of the finest songwriters in America.
Like his 1998 masterpiece Overcome By Happiness, this simple recording, described as a side project, is a masterful template of poignant, beautiful imagery accompanied by the barest of song structure. Joe is the rare artist who is a master of space and tempo. On “Breakneck Speed,” the plodding tempo and repetition gives the track a hypnotic quality that brings you into his world. His breathy Colin Blunstone-like (The Zombies) delivery and trademark lyrics describe moments so well that the story and its ending become unimportant. When he describes with only a lilting melody and a beautiful sounding acoustic guitar on “nobody’s watching:” “...undo your clothes, in the window shadeless night, and if you see me watching you, please let them go,” I am there. I’m not really interested in why he’s standing outside her window, or what follows, but for that moment, Joe has my undivided attention. Such sonic snapshots are overwhelming in all of Joe’s work.
This recording from beginning to end is very personal, and Pernice’s bare-it-all sensibility makes the recording special in a way very similar to his last effort, Overcome by Happiness. I’ve heard Pernice’s material described as Bacharach-like pop. I don’t totally disagree, but what Joe does lyrically is different in my opinion than the sometimes gentle and obvious themes that pervade Hal David’s lyrics. In David’s world, when the husband leaves, the car isn’t in the garage when she gets home. In Pernice’s world, when the wife gets home, the car is in the garage, but the engine is running, the garage door is closed, and the husband is in the front seat.
Seriously, apparently, Joe is no longer with Sub Pop and is looking for a label. We can only hope that there is at least one artist friendly major label left who actually sits down and listens to this man’s art so that he can continue to create work like Chappaquiddick Skyline.