Jeffrey Lewis’s last album “12 Crass Songs” was the first album I bought after being cleared of the debts that had led me to rely on submitted music for about four years. It was an intriguing prospect to have Crass songs delivered by a New York quirky folkie and it was a revelation, particularly to someone like me who had all the early Crass records, to finally hear the lyrics away from the original stodgy Punk delivery. I didn’t get on as well with his back catalogue however so I regarded it as a one-off show of brilliance.
His latest album “‘Em Are I” contains all of the same things I have struggled with in Jeffrey Lewis – the nasal voice, the conversational style of singing that uses schoolyard cadences instead of melody. But behind everything is the feeling that someone is baring their soul (admittedly with a lot of musical and lyrical whimsy). This is certainly an album that deals with a break-up and behind the humour is real disappointment, and that I can relate to.
In a world where bands plunder the 50 years of rock music available and mix different elements of the past, it is rare to hear an original voice and Jeffrey Lewis is one. Sometimes he seems just too knowing and aware of the musical deconstruction he is performing but it is always intriguing. One song on the album hits me like a sledgehammer (in the lyrics he says it is written by Jack who I assume is his brother who plays in the band) The Upside-Down Cross. It’s a full band piece with drums, electric guitar, piano and horns and is less playful melodically than much of the album but that just makes it work beautifully as a ‘let’s freak out a bit’ kind of song.
The Upside-down Cross by Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard (Clip)