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Friday, September 28, 2007

Jules Shear - The Great Puzzle (1992)

Sometimes musical discoveries seem to come about through true serendipity - an alignment of cosmic forces, if you will. A good example is this album by Jules Shear, to my mind the best in an absurdly idiosyncratic catalog dating back to the mid seventies. Back in 1992 I was reading a book in my local library by Paul Zollo (Songwriters on Songwriting) and out of all the interviewees, I was most interested by Jules. I was impressed to know that he had not only written "If She Knew What She Wants", my favorite song by the Bangles, but also "All Through The Night", amongst others. In describing his craft, he seemed to identify exactly the elements that can make a song special.

Although the interview was about five years old, by a quirk of coincidence I found a new release called The Great Puzzle nestling in the CD rack in our local store. It was unusual in those days for me to buy an album without reading a review, but without listening booths and the internet (can you imagine that?) sometimes you just had to take a chance. When the latest edition of Q Magazine came out, I noticed that they reviewed the album and gave it four stars out of five, an assessment I thoroughly agreed with.

Anyone who has not heard Jules' work before will find his voice takes a little getting used to. He has a very nasal, noo-yawk timbre, and in truth this can be a little wearing unless the material is compelling. Fortunately, every track on The Great Puzzle is a mini-masterpiece, a masterclass in songwriting where the melodies flutter and the stories weave their way into your head. Jules takes a slightly off-kilter approach to songwriting conventions. For example "Bark", naturally enough, is about a dog. "Jewel In A Cobweb" is about a dangerous relationship with some interesting spider allusions. "The Sad Sound of the Wind" and "Dreams Dissolve In Tears" take standard romantic break-up material and put an elegant spin on the proceedings such as "Not to deceive or with plans to leave/It was pure without intent". Other songs touch on loss, the perils of the world, and - in the sublime title track - its profound mysteries. When Jules wonders aloud, the question marks hang in the air like suspended chords.

Carefully produced by Stewart Lerman and also featuring his wife Pal Shazar, The Great Puzzle is a witty, melodic gem that has never lost its appeal to me. Nowadays, most second-hand CD stores have a copy for a couple of dollars - that's where I found the autographed one shown in the picture.

After the rise of the eBay era, I discovered that three additional "puzzle pieces" from the sessions had been added to a promotional single, but had never been commercially released. All three are fine efforts and I have no hesitation in appending them to the set.

Jules Shear - The Great Puzzle (1992)
  1. The Trap Door
  2. The Great Puzzle
  3. We Were Only Making Love
  4. The Sad Sound Of The Wind
  5. Something Else To Me
  6. Make Believe
  7. Much Too Much
  8. Dreams Dissolve In Tears
  9. The Mystery's All Mine
  10. Jewel In A Cobweb
  11. Bark
  12. His Audience Has Gone To Sleep (Bonus Track)
  13. She Makes Things Happen (Bonus Track)
  14. Nothing Is Left Behind (Bonus Track)
http://www.zshare.net/download/39098664389342/

A few copies of the album were packaged with a bonus disc Unplug This, featuring acoustic versions of several tracks from this and previous albums. You can find this to download here courtesy of my friend Big-D at Musica Obscura, along with several other rare albums by Jules.

Official Jules Shear Website
Wikipedia entry
A Good Summary of links to various Jules Shear related articles

1 comment:

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