A dramatic departure from Adam Sherman's days with A&M recording artist Private Lightning. A subdued, jazzy document of a journeyman whose voice has traded the sharp rock tones for smooth, soothing, thought-provoking messages. That Ian Matthews and Elliot Murphy have covered a tune of Sherman's on their disc, released on the heels of this one in 2001, is a testament to perseverance. The saxophone has replaced Patty Van Ness' distinctive violin, which often traded licks with Sherman's voice in Private Lightning. Here, producer Ken Field adds the sax, which has become identifiable with Persistence of Memory Orchestra, the band Field plays in with Willie Alexander. On "Poorboy," the artist sounds like he's on the holodeck of Star Trek in one of Captain Picard's private detective episodes, performing in the background of a smoke-filled cafe. It's a cover of a Nick Drake song, and is a bit jazzier than Sherman's own compositions. "Hard Place" has a "Cowgirl in the Sand"/Neil Young undertone, each tune having some touch of melancholy. "Songbird," the title track, gets even deeper into the downtown pop. The album keeps sinking, in a good way, into a low space that is usually carried by the bass guitar. Unlike Jack Bruce's Monkjack album, which glistened with renewal, Sherman's change of direction puts his voice and the darker edges of somber poetry into an organ cushion provided by Michael Ward-Bergemann. Things come up for air with the cover of Nick Cave's "Lime Tree Arbour," with Field's flute moving like early Jethro Tull over Bergemann's accordion. The total intensity of Private Lightning, an onslaught of a rock band with a violin taking a central role, has completely vanished from Sherman's music. It is marvelous reinvention, pulling Willie Alexander's original, "Too Bad," into this jazz-pop collection, recorded live at the Zeitgeist Gallery in Cambridge, MA. It's an insightful and delightful voyage. Using a sound that Alexander has crafted around these parts with the able assistance of Ken Field, the voice of Adam Sherman alongside the upright bass of Chris McLaughlin takes Alexander's song to unexplored regions. The same can be said of the cover of Tim Buckley's "Chase the Blues Away." This album is a vacuum where four diverse cover tunes by Cave, Drake, Alexander, and Buckley get a unique treatment. Sherman's sixth original here, "Shoot for the Moon," a solo acoustic performance, ends the disc with a bit of optimism: "Sometimes even crazy dreams come true." This is an enhanced CD which includes a video by Jeff Hudson for "January February," the first song on the disc. An important pillar of Boston music who was brought to the region by George Nardo, a member of the post-Lou Reed Velvet Underground back in the early '70s, it is interesting to see Sherman working so closely with another of the post-Reed Velvet alum, Willie Alexander and his bandmate, Ken Field. Also worth noting is that a Sherman co-write, "One Cold Street," is the first track on Elliot Murphy/Ian Matthews' 2001 recording, La Terre Commune.
AllMusic Review by Joe Viglione