Jonathan Richman ‘No me quejo de mi estrella’ (Vampi Soul) 3/5 CD/LP

Jonathan-RichmanBoston born singer and guitarist Jonathan Richman first came to attention in the United States as leader of rock group Modern Lovers, but as the 1970s progressed increasingly distanced himself from electric music to instead focus on acoustic-led instrumentation, and from 1978 embarked upon a solo career. Which is where the present compilation begins and covers recordings by Richman over the last fourteen years. There is a simplicity to the songs that is in keeping with the singer’s philosophy towards music and he is precisely the kind of artist that either John Peel or Andy Kershaw would have championed/champion. In other words, the music is deliberately idiosyncratic, veering to the left of the mainstream with a folk/pop sensibility in the English language which is the idiom the majority of the songs are performed in, plus a world roots flavour with three songs in Spanish that reveals both a passion for flamenco guitar and an interest in Cuban singer-songwriters. A pared down instrumentation of guitar/bass plus percussion and the occasional collective background vocals works quite well as illustrated on the melodic self-penned composition ‘No one was like Vermeer’ with some lovely guitar work. The vocal delivery here is almost spoken, akin to Leonard Cohen. The latter is clearly a major influence since he receives a homage on a cover of ‘Here it is’. Of the Spanish language repertoire, Cuban songwriter Nico Saquito’s ‘La fiesta es para todos’ receives a faithful interpretation and Saquito himself rightly gained an international reputation during the 1990s with indie label releases of his work while Richman’s interest in flamenco is demonstrated by the appropriately titled, ‘La guitarra flamenco negra’. Previously only limited 7″ vinyl singles were available on Vampi Soul and they have wisely decided to devote an entire album to his work. Definitely quirky and worth investigating.

Tim Stenhouse