Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Michael Penn! Michael Penn! (and more Michael Penn!)

It's an embarrassment of riches for fans of singer/songwriter Michael Penn (and fans of intelligent songwriting everywhere) as the critically-acclaimed artist releases not one, but two CD collections this Tuesday, April 17th.

Palms & Runes; Tarot & Tea: A Michael Penn Collection

and a newly-mastered re-release of his 2005 album --
Mr. Hollywood Jr., 1947

(2005 Cover Art)

Actually it's a total of three CDs -- as the re-release of MHJ1947 includes a bonus CD: six songs from a 2005 MP performance at Los Angeles radio station KCRW, and the wonderfully evocative "Walter Reed" music video. (Penn's "Walter Reed" was released before the announcement of the closure of Walter Reed Hospital and the subsequent revelation of the inadequate conditions there -- and the intervening two years' events have only added to the song's multiple layers of meaning. )

Having gotten my sweaty paws on advance copies of all three CDs, this rabid fan can only say she's sending a big wet kiss (on the cheek, of course!) to Mr. Penn for making my day.

Maybe my month.

Because Palms... can only be described as the musical equivalent of the Best Gift Ever to his fanbase. (I was going to say "the musical equivalent of a big wet kiss to his collective fanbase"...but there seems to be way too much figurative kissing going on in this post -- my apologies to all for any psychological damage the resulting mental picture might have provoked.)


One can only hope that Palms & Runes; Tarot & Tea: A Michael Penn Collection will also make the uninitiated aware of the full range of this talented musician.

It's a collection of alternate takes, brand new versions of old favorites, and best-of-the-best album cuts -- selections from all five of his albums, spanning the course of more than 15 years.

Michael says he himself hand-picked these tracks, as well as the order in which they appear on the CD


"I figured I should try to make this an actual album instead of just a collection of old songs-- or at least make it feel like one to me. I picked stuff that I still felt connected to and that fit together."

(This topic is also discussed in Dave Lifton's blogcritic interview with Michael Penn.)

It's obvious Penn didn't want his loyal following to feel ripped off with a typical Ultimate Collection thrown-together mix of old tracks.

Whatever the opposite of "feeling ripped off" is, well, that's how I'm feeling right now.

Palms & Runes; Tarot & Tea: A Michael Penn Collection is worth every penny of its $11.98 list (only $9.97 at Amazon!) solely for the revamped version of "Cupid's Got a Brand New Gun"

Full disclosure: I was never crazy for the original "Cupid..." on MP's first album, March. His live performances of the song - yes - but the album version didn't speak to me. So much so that I felt free to butcher reinterpret it as a torch song with my cover on the tribute CD Look What the Fans Drug In.

But MP's new version of "Cupid's Got a Brand New Gun" -- I LOVE -- a completely different feel from the original, with its addition of a bluesy piano, its freer all-out driving chorus (horns and all!) -- it's perfect.

At this early point in my relationship with the album, it's definitely the highlight of the collection for me.

But there are 19 other tracks that could easily do the same for another fan. There's so much here to enjoy:

Track Listings
1. Lucky One (Version One - Previously Unreleased)
2. Bunker Hill
3. Out Of My Hands
4. Cupid's Got A Brand New Gun (New Version - Previously Unreleased)
5. Coal
6. Try (Alternate Version - Previously Unreleased)
7. No Myth
8. Barely A Sound (Instrumental - Previously Unreleased)
9. Don't Let Me Go
10. All That That Implies
11. Whole Truth
12. Brave New World
13. Me Around (Demo Version - Previously Unreleased)
14. Long Way Down (Look What The Cat Drug In) (New version - Previously Unreleased)
15. Macy Day Parade (from the Godzilla Soundtrack)
16. Figment
17. Bucket Brigade
18. I Can Tell
19. Walter Reed
20. Opening (Instrumental from the film, "Melvin Goes To Dinner" -- Previously Unreleased)

The demo version of "Me Around" is another stand-out track. A bare-bones rendition with just voice and guitar, it points what a terrific guitarist Michael Penn is. (And why he's so good in concert.)

"Me Around" is followed immediately by a new (beautiful) version of my favorite Penn song of all time, "Long Way Down." This song says everything about why I'm such a big fan...and nothing that I can properly articulate with mere words. Listen and you'll see.

Okay, I'm getting a little gushy. I'm still high on music here, folks -- give me a break.

As someone so intimately familiar with MP's body of work, I can't objectively judge how someone less Penn-ophilic will find Runes... a public service for those unfamiliar with Michael Penn's music, I will give you some reference points:

If you like Elvis Costello, you'll appreciate Michael Penn's clever turn-of-phrase wordplay and biting lyrics.

If you like Crowded House, you'll appreciate Penn's hooks and harmonies.

If you like Aimee Mann, you'll appreciate that she's married to Michael -- um, I meant to say: that MP seems to share Aimee's less-than-rosy perspective on life and love. Michael has been known to introduce his song "On Automatic" with the quip, "Optimism is the pretty side of denial," (making clear that the song's chorus of "Things are looking up..." is just a temporary delusion.)

More reference points (that might place my tastes on some sort of musical scale): I'm also a big fan of Fountains of Wayne, Jellyfish, David Mead, John Wesley Harding...and currently really loving the CD "Jollity" from the Irish group Pugwash, whose driving force (Thomas Walsh) also happens to be a fan of - who else - Mr. Michael Penn.

Ladies and Gentlemen - it's a giant musical lovefest!

All this blathering leaves no time left to delve properly into the remaster of Mr. Hollywood Jr., 1947. Except to say that the new Sony/Legacy re-release is supposed to sound even better than the original SpinArt version.

I say "supposed to sound even better" because personally, I thought the original non-mastered release sounded just fine. I liked the dynamic range in Michael's original production. But let your ears be the judge -- they're probably better than mine anyway -- and regardless, it's a great CD.

And, as I mentioned above (can you even remember the beginning of this blog?) the new release has dandy Extra Features which makes it definitely worth picking buying again (or for the first time!)

Mr. Michael Penn is about to embark on a short concert tour. Attend and I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Apr 24 2007
Arlington, Virginia

Apr 26 2007
Ram's Head - On Stage
Annapolis, Maryland

Apr 27 2007
World Café Live
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Apr 28 2007
Joe's Pub
New York, New York

Apr 30 2007
Joe's Pub
New York, New York

May 2 2007
Boston, Massachusetts

May 3 2007
Iron Horse
Northampton, Massachusetts

May 5 2007
Club Cafe
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

May 6 2007
Beachland Ballroom
Cleveland, Ohio

May 8 2007
The Ark
Ann Arbor, Michigan

May 9 2007
Chicago, Illinois