If you've been missing the sounds of early Joe Jackson and are too impatient to wait for his upcoming reunion tour and subsequent release, be glad to know that an alternative exists. This newest revision of the late '70s Britpop "invasion of the angry young men" comes from the unlikely locale of Charlotte, North Carolina in the distinctive guise of one Leisure McCorkle. With shaved pate, orange-tinted glasses, a soul patch goatee, a gray pinstripe suit, tie and platform shoes, Leisure is a visual character.
He seems intense in those CD booklet poses, but odds are Leisure may not be quite so angry as his musical predecessors. His music deals with relationships gone awry, the search for love and friendship, partying and alcohol, and even false idols. This all is good standard melodic pop/rock fare and his Jet Set Baby collects a dozen amiable tunes guaranteed to have you singing along.
McCorkle's sounds are guitar-driven, fairly unadorned and straightforward, and may be heard as retro, if only for that fresh simplicity. His vocal resemblance to I'm the Man-era Joe Jackson is uncanny and fortuitous, as is his choice of Spongetone Jamie Hoover to produce, mix and engineer the music in a manner whereby the songs are the story, clean and direct.
The band is tight: Leisure and Jamie take on vocals and guitars, with some piano, synth and percussion as well. Gary Guthrie and John Cates share drum duties, with Jeb Pittman ably handling bass (with Randall Johnson taking the bottom on "100 Percent").
The CD opens with four very strong tunes. "She Can't Count the Stars" is a bit of musical swagger, as he tells of a woman friend who is impressed by material fame and how he is unable to offer her such, but "most of all she needs a man like me to take her away". "Does She Really Know?" is a tale of an unresponsive and somewhat clueless woman, sung by the man who's decided not to wait any longer: "I've given up, given out, given up being alone."
We really hit early Joe Jackson territory with "Like That", in the vein of "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" This is ex-boyfriend as witness to his replacement, complete with a catchy sing-along two-line chorus.
My personal favorite is "100%", a beautiful love song that's an extension of the song that precedes it. Lyrically, we're in young Elvis Costello's world, a man convinced he's not the only one in his woman's life, but ever eager for that full commitment: "Stop. I'm tired of messing around / Stop. I'm tired of playing the�thought I was gonna say the clown, but I'm not gonna let you do that, let you tear me up and then you'll let me down / I wanna be celebrated / I'm tired of breaking on through / Beautiful baton twirler super-fly latchkey lunchbox girl / I'm tired of being the one you call / when there's nobody else around / I'm released of being a something / only want to spend 100% with you."
"In Touch With My Own Sound" is a tongue-in-cheek censure of our image-driven society; while "God in a Box" rocks in a very Pixies/Frank Black sort of way (he's even name-checked in the song's lyrics), employing other elements, including spoken recessed vocals and harder guitar sounds, telling a tale of an idolized musician ("the master of the lyrical cha-cha-cha") who might be more bluster than substance.
"This Girl" is a cheerful 3:26 ditty ready for 1979 radio; so set the wayback machine, Sherman. Here Leisure renounces his love interest, tired of the way the game playing has escalated, etc. "Alcohol" is another infectious song, this one sporting a good Ringo Mersey beat that will have you nodding your head to the rhythm.
"Blum's Lullaby" is a pretty ballad about trying to face up to work things out in a relationship (and "Dissin' You" is a more philosophical take on how a relationship never should have happened).
"Serenade" is the lone tune not written by McCorkle (this one by bassist Jeb Pittman), a harder-edged rocker that could be from Kiss or any number of 1970s groups. "New York Eyes" is a slight upbeat jaunt reminiscent of Thin Lizzy, a celebration of a woman with Chicago style and New York eyes.
The lyrics show little influence from McCorkle's day job -- he apparently knows how to keep his two lives separate. With his two master's degrees (one in Sanskrit and Indian Studies, the other in Comparative Religion) and a special interest in Buddhism, McCorkle teaches Comparative Religion at Queen's College.
Jet Set Baby is an impressive collection. While at first listen, one might find the sounds to be a little too much of the same, over time the songs do distinguish themselves. In this, his third release, Leisure McCorkle really brings the melodic pop/rock goods: great infectious tunes, a voice eerily redolent of the younger Joe Jackson, and straight-ahead guitar-driven arrangements that bode well for a future popularity that extends well beyond the angry young nostalgia set.