Some singer/songwriters are artists who truly excel as both composers and performers (Richard Thompson and Nick Lowe, for instance), and others are folks who sing primarily to create a vehicle for their own material (Kris Kristofferson being a prime example). Jules Shear tends to fit into the latter category; while he's by no means a bad vocalist, his reedy, heart-worn instrument doesn't have a tremendous amount of range, and it's not unfair to say that if his songwriting skills were on a par with, say, Eddie Money, his recordings would not enjoy the cult following he has today (and his publishing statements wouldn't be much to write home about). So what is Jules Shear doing making an album of other people's tunes? That's the lingering question behind Sayin' Hello to the Folks, in which Shear lends his voice to a dozen of his favorite songs. Shear's tastes are nothing if not eclectic; not many folks would cover Woody Guthrie and Joe Tex on the same album, let alone the Dave Clark Five, Procol Harum, James Brown, and Bob Dylan, and as a top-shelf songwriter he sure knows a great song when he hears one. He does a truly lovely job with Roger Miller's "Husbands and Wives," Brian Wilson's "Guess I'm Dumb," and Todd Rundgren's "Be Nice to Me," and his arrangements are subtle, concise, and effective. But while one doesn't for a moment doubt Shear's fondness for vintage soul, he sounds just a bit silly on "It Ain't Gonna Work" and "Ain't That a Groove" (though his Chris Kenner cover, "Something You Got," is just goofy enough that it works). Sayin' Hello to the Folks is fun, and Shear sounds like he was having a fine time making it, but for the most part it points to his limits as an interpretive vocalist rather than his strengths, which means he'd be best off bringing along a stack of his own songs next time he enters the studio.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming