"I Know It's No Excuse, But I've Lost My Mind."
Peter Himmelman, once, was talked about as one of the “New Dylans”. Much was made of the fact that he was actually married to Bob Dylan’s daughter—I remember critics accusing him of careerism for this move, back in the day. But he’s been out of the spotlight for a while, doing children’s albums and scoring the TV show Judging Amy, as well as touring and working on his craft.
This new record sounds like the work of someone who has a lot of things to say, and doesn’t much care in what order he says them. For example, this is his idea of seductive talk, from the slow reggae / blues song “This Afternoon in the Rain”: “Pass me the chocolate mints, / I like ‘em better when they’re frozen, / Some days you just get hints, / Other times it feels like you’ve been chosen”. His non sequiturs are semi-legendary, and this album is packed full of them. The uptempo rocker “Wet Matches” begins: “I’ve been dishonest, I betrayed your trust, / The bank account of my noble intentions just went bust”. Which, as a couplet, is pretty bad, until he hits you with the good stuff on the other end: “I fell into the web, I became entwined, / I know it’s no excuse, but I’ve lost my mind”.
Himmelman gives us lyric junkies everything we need here: funny stuff, serious stuff, stuff that makes no apparent sense, stuff that is all too clear. Some of it is soaked through with grief—the title track mourns the recent death of Himmelman’s sister in a car accident, and “One Minute Longer” is an angry confused end-of-the-love-affair song: “I’m not playing possum, / I’m just immobilized”. Another track, “Kneel Down”, does a pretty great job of confusing the hell out of the listener with its talk of “Come taste it with the tip of your tongue” and “Are you starting to shake, my darling?”—it seems pretty sexy, until you start realizing that he’s singing about “the House of God”. So then you’re thinking that it’s a religious song, until he starts in about how Johnny Rivers songs can soothe your troubled soul. Which is true, but, y’know, whoa.
But the biggest impact this record makes is with its big, fat sound. Himmelman plays all the guitars here, and they leap out and snarl through the speakers like long-caged lions set free. (Okay, that was a crap simile. I’m not Himmelman.) “Loaves of Bread” is an aggressive opening track, feverish with possibility and ready to kick some ass. The drumming is done by longtime Attractions member Pete Thomas, and it lifts this record out of Adult Alternative Album territory time and time again, into some kind of third wave of singer-songwriter action. And Himmelman’s voice has never been better: “Consumed” might be a blues croak, but it is one hell of a blues croak, and throws the image of “Ragweed and thistles / Growing under my feet” into the lexicon. Even when things slow down, like in “What’s Your Name”, the sound is still pinpoint precise.
Peter Himmelman will never be put on the same pedestal as his famous father-in-law. But if Bob Dylan made this album, everyone would be falling all over themselves to write the one millionth review about how Dylan’s Back Again! This is high craft, sexy and troubled and funny, chock-full of many hit-rewind-did-he-really-say-that? moments.