Okay, I admit that I’m a little late to the Justin Currie/Del Amitri band wagon. Okay, a lot late. Maybe it’s slowed a bit in this decade. I should have known that the Scottish and their hundreds of lochs, brutal weather and amazing accents are really like the U.S. Pacific Northwest for irresistible rock-pop. Glasgow may be the Seattle for jangle pop these days.
Judging by the audience at Jammin Java and their ten year age-advantage on me, it seems like a much more erudite (and well-behaved) version of a Pearl Jam show. So again, I may be late, but Currie’s stage banter and hooky/rootsy combo made me more than interested in the back catalogue. We all need reminders that the 80s are not a completely lost decade (especially for music).
When listening to Currie’s sophomore solo album, I couldn’t help but contrast with other roots/pop acts. The arpeggios sound like the Jayhawks, and the voice has shades of Matt Scannell of Vertical Horizon (you know, from that ubiquitous song “Everything You Want” from 1999). The pop production sheen of this album is a bit too clean for my tastes, but that’s where the live show can shift gears a bit.
In person, Currie sounds like a more adventurous (and underappreciated) Freedy Johnston. His voice and melodic phrasing are both surprising and full of hooks. I admittedly came into this concert less prepared than I normally am. I usually have all albums by a band and skim them advance of a show. This tends to work for me if I don’t get myself sick of the singer before the show. But Currie’s songs were hooky enough to remove this need, particularly the album opener “A Man with Nothing to Do.” The clean harmonies and simple melody are unabashedly likeable. Another tune, “This Side of the Morning”, had a similar appeal, maximized in the acoustic and piano setting.
I honestly don’t know which song version to choose from “As Long As You Don’t Come Back.” This is where Currie’s vocals really shine. The album version has the vocals right up front. The live version pulls the vocals back in favor of some brilliant electric piano work. “At Home Inside of Me” also sounds good on the record but better in a slightly sloppier live version. With Justin, the dirtier the guitar, the more I like it. The pop hooks are innate but the production could feel a bit more loose.
The album and live show did have some down moments, which seemed completely at odds with Currie’s on-stage persona. He had the typical dry Scottish wit (delivered deadpan) no matter the tone of the song itself. The least likable of these came with the piano only numbers. “The Way That It Falls” was a particularly slow and repetitive one. It lacked the bounce and rhythm to prop up the melody. “You’ll Always Walk Alone” was a bit more buoyant in person, but still felt sluggish and I was already looking forward to the next upbeat number. The lyrics are often barely noticeable in these tunes.
Currie is a songwriter with such mastery of craft that you can marvel at the pure simplicity; on the other hand, the lyrical depth is a often hard to notice. That’s completely forgivable for a straight up pop song but a bit harder to excuse on the slow piano ballads. But then again, the slow ones really made me appreciate the acoustic rhythms of the upbeat numbers. Now, I will make another trip into the 80s to see what I’ve been missing. Wish me luck.
Photos by Suzanne Davis
About the author: Jeff is a teacher in the Boston area. When not buried correcting papers, Jeff can be found plucking various stringed instruments and listening to all types of americana music.