In many respects, once you get past Jonathan Richman's distinctively froggy Boston-accented voice, there has been little on his recordings of the 21st century to remind you they were made by the same man who recorded Back in Your Life or Rock ‘n' Roll with the Modern Lovers back in the '70s. Richman's songwriting has gained an unexpected maturity and sophistication as he's entered his fifties, especially as he began writing and singing in Spanish and French, as well as English, and though he's long aimed for instrumental simplicity, peeling his recordings back to just a guitar and percussion, as on his recent albums, has given them a spare, stark quality that points to the deeper hues of the melodies and the greater gravity of the lyrics. 2010's O Moon, Queen of Night on Earth plays like a gesture by Richman to bring back a bit of the playfulness of his classic-era material to his current approach to record-making. He doesn't sound like he's moved backward at all, but he hasn't written a song as openly witty and self-depreciating as "My Affected Accent" in years, and if "These Bodies That Came to Cavort" is more consciously poetic than something like "Dancing at the Lesbian Bar," the joie de vivre that informed the earlier song shines through, as do the high-spirited rhythms of "Sa Voix M'Atisse." The majority of the album features just Richman's acoustic guitar and Tommy Larkins' drumming, and they continue to be a fine match, reinforcing the musicality in one another, and they provide gentle but strong support for Richman's songs, bringing out the drama in the melodies and the sensuality and wonder that play such a major role in his lyrics. O Moon, Queen of Night on Earth reveals that Jonathan Richman has grown as an artist, but not at the expense of his humanity or his humor, and just as his music has always come straight from the heart, the artfulness of this music comes not from pretension, but from an artist honestly expressing himself, and doing so with both intelligence and compassion. It's a quietly brilliant work from a singular songwriter.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming