Bill Janovitz

Walt Whitman Mall

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As the leader of Buffalo Tom, Bill Janovitz sometimes saw his subtle songs get overwhelmed by the roar of his power trio, but Walt Whitman Mall -- his fourth or fifth solo album, it all depends whether you count Crown Victoria's Fireworks on TV! as a Janovitz project or not -- spotlights his skills as a craftsman quite appealingly. Unlike Buffalo Tom, which was grounded in the college rock of the '80s, Walt Whitman Mall is essentially an Americana affair, built on sturdy songs but performed with ragged abandon. At times, Janovitz is delicately picking his acoustic, sometimes he's strumming chords with a full-muscled insistence, swinging between these two extremes and never invalidating either attitude. Throughout it all, Janovitz displays a nimbleness in melody and lyric, enjoying the folk-rock propulsion of his singalongs, sometimes dipping into a sweetness on his ballads, always banging out a robust, openhearted celebration of love and loss, frayed ends, and forgotten memories. Janovitz is happy to wander down detours, lingering upon loose ends and jagged chords, and that gives Walt Whitman Mall an ingratiating messiness: it may not be tidy but has the thrust and ballast of life itself, which makes it exceedingly appealing.

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