Plea for Tenderness

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James McNew's albums under the one-man-band tag Dump lead to a certain sameness in reviews. First, they mention McNew's day job as bassist/organist in Yo La Tengo. Then they talk about the cute little pink bunny doodle on all the album covers. Then they use three or more of the following words: charming, winsome, adorable, enchanting, delightful, irresistible. And why not? Dump's albums (Plea for Tenderness is number three, after 1994's Superpowerless and 1995's I Can Hear Music) are all of the above and more. Recorded at home on a cheap multitrack cassette recorder, with McNew playing every instrument, save one harmonica part, Plea for Tenderness cements McNew as the spiritual offspring of R. Stevie Moore. Like fellow Jersey-based musical hermit Moore, McNew mixes and matches across genres, so that even his choice of covers becomes part of a personal vision. For most bands, covers are a convenient way to either pay lip service to accepted icons of cool or do that increasingly tired hipper-than-thou "deconstruction" shtick. McNew bends neither way, playing his covers of '60s French pop star Jacques Dutronc's "Et Moi, Et Moi, Et Moi" and "Robert Knight"'s '70s AM classic "Everlasting Love" with complete sincerity. Roky Erickson's "On the Right Track Now" is so generously tender that pseudo-hipsters who know Roky only as "That crazy Texas guy who believes in demons" will be knocked sideways. McNew's own songs are his strongest yet -- previous Dump albums were a little uneven, but Plea for Tenderness has pure pop bounce ("Clarity"), ghostly reveries ("Made for It" and the expansive, eight-minute "So Long"), sonic explorations ("Knicks Win"), and trippy experiments ("The Big Bands"), all delivered in McNew's guileless voice over casually excellent guitar, organ, and basslines, along with drum parts whose occasional shambolic naïveté are a large part of their charm. Yep, there's that word again. A Plea for Tenderness is an unbelievably charming album.

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