TThey say that when the Model T started to catch on, Henry Ford bragged that you could have it in any color . . . as long as it was black. Well, in the folky singer-songwriter genre, I tend to enjoy all types of artists . . . as long as they're women. For some reason I have yet to uncover, I have a thing for female voices, and will listen to their music, the male equivalent of which would bug the shit out of me. So I was a little nervous when I picked up Jim Boggia's debut CD Fidelity is the Enemy. I've seen Jim Boggia playing accompaniment to Jill Sobule at the Tin Angel on several occasions, and he's an incredible musician, the kind who if he heard a song once can play it. And watching the two of them play off each other is something to behold. However, as these things go, being a great musician doesn't always translate into being a great songwriter. And I really wanted to be able to recommend Fidelity to my friends.
As it turns out, I was worried about nothing. Because the CD is good. Really good. First of all, while male singers usually don't do it for me, I took to Boggia's voice right away. He's able to go from mellow ("So Full") to rocking ("Toy Boat") seamlessly. "So Full" (the first track) starts out slowly, but culminates in a glorious build on the second chorus with harmonies abounding. The second track "Toy Boat" is easily the loudest one on the album. Boggia's voice is equally appropriate to both songs, smooth and just scratchy enough to give the songs an edge.
Even if the perspective isn't anything revolutionary (another folky singer-songwriter), the songwriting is strong enough that you don't mind. "Toy Boat", an ode to tongue twisters, does rock as it brings a smile to your face. Also notable is "Bubblegum 45s", a celebration of the joys of vinyl ("Fidelity is the enemy / I like them cut out from a cereal box / Every skip, scratch, and pop is a joy to me"). The song harkens back to a more innocent time, when we got bubblegum pop records off the backs of cereal boxes as much as from record stores. Hell, I was born in the age of cassettes, and the song is enough to make me nostalgic for the days of LP's. While nostalgia for the low-fi days can get kind of tiresome after a while, there's an innocence to Boggia's version that makes you not care if the theme has been done before.
The arrangements on Fidelity are much fuller than the singer-with-a-guitar I expected. Instead of being spare and just focusing on Boggia's voice and acoustic guitar, these are uniformly lush pop songs. There's definitely an art to writing good pop songs, and Boggia has apparently listened to enough of them to know it. Even the songs that cover very ordinary and familiar ground -- I'm happy and in love ("Several Thousand" and "That, For Me, Is You"), and I'm unhappy and no longer in love ("Black and Blue"), or I'm off on my own and still recognize my own value ("Nothing Wrong with Me" and "Weather"), bring something fresh to the subject. Actually, "Black and Blue" does come off as a little whiny in the chorus, but it would still make a good song to listen to when you're heartbroken and it's raining out, which is one of the three or four things a good pop song MUST do.
Parts of the album also show signs of the wordplay that makes Boggia's sometime stage-mate Jill Sobule's music so enjoyable, like O/P's "There are silver clouds all over the sky, but you still find a black lining" (and is that Sobule's voice in the background of "Nothing Wrong with Me"?). Despite "Black and Blue", the overall impression I get from Fidelity is this is an album that's so relentlessly upbeat as to make a worldview out of it. In "O/P," Boggia sings "'Cause I'm an optimist, so when it all goes wrong, I know I'll still find my way home / But you're a pessimist, and you pay for it, and your drag is all your own". On "Peter Pan," he chants the phrase "Think happy thoughts and you can fly". When there's so much doom and gloom in music, as there always is, there's a fine line to walk between refreshingly optimistic and simply saccharine. With a lesser songwriter (think Jewel, who I probably dump on more than I should), such a stance could just come off as annoying, but Boggia gets away with it.
Again, these aren't songs that are going to change the world, or even the singer-songwriter genre, forever. But there's quite a bit of craft to the 11 songs on Fidelity (including the hidden track "Humbug" which plays as something of a cross between bebop and polka) that makes them all pretty enjoyable, and, indeed, something to write home about. While the CD fits easily into the folk-rock genre that seems to be flourishing in both the mainstream and independent scene, this album is anything but ordinary. Even in its weaker moments, I can't wait to see the arc of Boggia's career continue. During one show with Jill Sobule, they talked about the possibility of him opening up for her, and then accompanying Sobule for her set. I can't imagine a couple of musicians more suited to each other. When they're onstage together, they're able to play off each other, and I'd love to see Boggia increase his contribution to the show.
On a personal level, I seem to be moving in the direction of more and more male artists and singers. For as annoying as mediocre male folk-singers can be, every so often you find a real gem like Jim Boggia. And I can't wait to see what he does next. Of course, until then, Fidelity will keep me plenty busy.