Building a Road

Spottiswoode & His Enemies

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Building a Road Review

by Hal Horowitz

Recorded in 2002 but finally released in 2005, poet/singer/songwriter Jonathan Spottiswoode establishes himself as a creative, mature, unique, and challenging artist with his talented five-piece band. Mixing elements of folk, pop, rock, jazz, soul, and gospel, the diverse music perfectly frames Spottiswoode's spoken/sung ruminations that veer from the personal to the avant-garde. Vocally, he mixes the dry humor of Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven's David Lowery with a dark, gravelly Leonard Cohen semi-sung growl. The song's arrangements, especially the horn charts, bring the jazz in a subtle way, snaking around the melody somewhat similar to Steely Dan. Each track is a mini-movie, splashed with oblique wit, offbeat wordplay, and an artistic integrity that never panders to commercial considerations. The tracks are imaginatively conceived and executed, twisting and turning at unexpected places, and pretty much discarding traditional verse-verse-chorus-bridge construction to blaze their own paths. There is tension here, but also some laughs and enough smart, wry lyrics to keep most listeners coming back for more. And there is plenty to return for. These 17 songs tumble out in 70 minutes, yet contain enough ideas for a few albums' worth of material. Although the band is immensely talented, this is all Spottiswoode's show; it's his soulful voice and vision that drive the project and beat the disparate elements into tunes featuring melodies that never take the easy way out. There are traces of Van Morrison and Willy DeVille in the R&B aspects of the music, but those are just signposts on a refreshingly unpredictably winding road. The opening "Drunk" is a perfect introduction. It features backing singers, sexy/religious lyrics, swampy guitar, and gypsy influences in the melody and a twisted horn break that brings the experimental jazz, all this in under three minutes with no hint of the pretentiousness that might accompany such an audacious approach. It's an auspicious album by even the most conservative standards and hopefully will receive some much deserved recognition for Jonathan Spottiswoode, an artist who seems to have only scratched the surface of his abilities with this release.

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