This album was a little disappointing. There is often something unsatisfactory in Leven’s songwriting, HOWEVER, as far as pop music is concerned, it’s difficult to find a better tunesmith than him. His records sounds in places a little too polished, and one is right to ask himself why he remained some sort of a “cult figure” during his life (I don’t like the word “cult”, thence the commas). As you may know, he died last year. Johnny Dowd is one of the best songwriters around today, a kind of modest Tom Waits, who would not know who Harry Partch is (but perhaps he does), so the prospect of listening to the fruit of their collaboration was a pleasing one. I discovered Leven through his beautiful cover of “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling” that he sings in duet with David Thomas. I very much like what David Thomas has done throughout the years, and above all, Mirror Man, the first act of a “rock opera”, that was graced, among other things, by superb interventions by Linda Thompson and Jackie Leven. Richard Thompson also played on a Thomas’ album. All those guys compose a pretty impressive company, which is a notion that I enjoy. The songs here are at the beginning a little too pedestrian, and then in gets better, but not as good as, say, Creatures of Darkness and Light (with the eternally mirific “The Sexual Loneliness of Jesus Christ”, and its yodel-like singing, as someone, quite aptly, writes on amazon I think), or Pictures From Life Other’s Side. I’ll want to listen to it again, though. This kind of all-too-slick albums, almost of the “adult alternative” type, don’t usually grows on you, except if it’s Jackie who writes the songs. A touching, if not memorable, homage to Judee Sill, a little like that of Robert Forster to Patti Smith “When She Sangs About Angels”, is also to be found here. Thom Jurek often writes nonsense sentences, that is, sentences that perhaps HE understands, but not the attentive reader who wants language to be precise. I find him a very sympathetic reviewever though, and to express my gratitude to his unalterable enthusiasm, I am going to quote the onset of his review of Shining Brother Shining Sister (beautiful cover, by the way, and if you listen to the album, you will hear David Thomas reading some Rilke, which does not lack charm, as everything he sings or says - I think David Thomas is the pop music equivalent of a Raymond Chandler or Jim Thompson - they have a similar knack for - you know what I mean, I won’t expand here). Such a pity he is dead:
His unflinching yet redemptive songs of the dark sides of archetypical manhood, and his unwavering gaze into the abyss to discover meaning and truth in modern life are lushly orchestrated, gorgeously sung, and beautifully rendered, almost unbearably so.
Jackie Leven - Oh What a Blow that Phantom Dealt Me (2007)