Marshall Crenshaw: Jaggedland

Rob Browning

Jaggedland is not only the title of the record, it’s a state of mind.

Marshall Crenshaw


Label: 429
US Release Date: 2009-06-02
UK Release Date: 2009-06-02
Artist Website

Jaggedland is not only the title of the new Marshall Crenshaw record, it’s a state of mind. Crenshaw says the title best describes his current state of being, but a dip into his back catalog will show that he’s maintained citizenship in the land of all things jagged for years. 2009 will mark the passing of twenty-seven years since the release of his eponymous debut. The record established Crenshaw as a top songsmith well-informed of the music of the ‘50s and ‘60s and gifted with a keen ear for the pop charts of the present day. Infectious hook-laden melody was tempered with a dark edge that painted Crenshaw as an American parallel to Elvis Costello. While both have long been critical darlings, their relationship with the charts has been much more mercurial. Such things may weigh heavily on the accountants of this world, but neither artist has seen any reason to compromise their art for the sake of a quick cash-in. Songs were always paramount. Crenshaw has a number of lucrative songwriting collaborations and has been fortunate to have his material covered by artists as disparate as Robert Gordon and S Club 7, but still remains a devout student of his craft. Ever honing and refining the process, Crenshaw has taken jazz guitar lessons since the early ‘90s. The resulting expansion in his musical vocabulary has found him inflecting his songs with jazzily confident lines and indulging in lush arrangements that are wonderfully uncluttered, yet still harmonically interesting.

Such economy is the backbone of good songwriting, but even the best song can be ruined by poor arrangements and production. There are no such issues here. The lion’s share of Jaggedland was recorded in California with a crew of heavy-hitters from the LA session scene, including trapsman Jim Keltner and bassist Sebastian Steinberg. Initial recordings were made with Stewart Lerman at Crenshaw’s home in upstate NY, but Jerry Boys helmed the board for the California sessions, lending the unobtrusive magic he’s worked on projects like the Buena Vista Social Club. The relationship with Boys seems to have been a fruitful one, but given his background, it’s a small wonder that he and Crenshaw got on like a house on fire. Boys started his career as a tape op at Abbey Road, working on seminal recordings from the Beatles and Pink Floyd. While Crenshaw may not operate on the level of grandeur, there is an unmistakably vibe to Jaggedland. Boys captures a loose live feel that can only come from California. The West Coast experience seems to have taken a wee bit off the normal Crenshaw bristle. While he is far from an angry young man, there is still an obvious fire that burns inside. That said, it would take a much harder man to muster up such old school bile with the liberal dappling of sunshine and vibraphone that colors the tracks. While I’m neither a fan of said vibes nor the slavish knee-jerk obsession with Pet Sounds, it is notable that the legendary Emil Richards mans the mallets here. The result is all-around pretty wonderful, especially on the instrumental title track.

Crenshaw opens the proceedings with a jagged guitar line that morphs suddenly into a lush world of Orbison reverb. While the production has modern presence, Bobby Vinton is name-checked within the first thirty seconds of “Right On Time”, reminding you that you're dealing with a man who has played Buddy Holly on the silver screen and John Lennon in Beatlemania. Crenshaw seems to be in good spirits and the song craft is as deft as ever; “Just Snap Your Fingers” and “Live and Learn” are some of his best in recent history. Jaggedland shows Crenshaw to be an artist who is more than comfortable in his own skin. Whether rocking in short bursts like “Gasoline Baby” or treading a more contemplative path with quieter fare like “Sunday Blues”, Marshall Crenshaw’s tenure in Jaggedland seems to be a fruitful one.






'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.