If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “Man, I wish the early Barenaked Ladies had gone on a sunny picnic with They Might Be Giants, where they conceived, wrote, and recorded a bright, poppy folk record built around a ton of ukulele and concertina,” then do I have some good news for you - submitted for your approval, I present Happy to Be Here, the latest album from Jack Burton Overdrive.
When the seemingly discordant first concertina notes of opener “Perambulate” start, it isn’t immediately clear what’s about to happen, but soon the guitar comes in, and everything is resolved into an upbeat tune that feels like it’s happening live right next to you. “Russian Bride” starts with a bright, jangly uke and light vocal melody that sucks you in, leaving you unprepared for the cut time drums and big rock guitars coming up, a nice surprising shock to the ear. “Sweet Marie” follows with a slower, more introspective vibe, with backing vocals that can only be described as “hollered” and I mean that in the most complimentary way. Make no mistake, though, where many albums would place the first “ballad,” replete with cloying musical tropes, JBO offers up another toe-tapper, like Tom Waits sitting in with Old Crow Medicine Show.
“Fractured Muse” is a little more “serious,” for lack of a better word, exploring themes of loss that feel unexpected, but not out of place. Not given to dwelling in one groove, the record picks back up with “Dinosaur on the Moon,” only to slow again with the relatively brooding “Paranoid Paranoid.”
“Wound Up” starts with a bouncy uke rhythm, a common sound on this album, and plays like some classic pop song, but with some of the weight of the previous few tracks still being felt in the vocals. “Grasshopper’s Fate” starts with the static of an old analog radio being tuned, before relaying the story of a vanished British spy.
“Blanket Stealer” is a quick track, a great piece of absurdist “What did I just listen to?” kind of fun that, if anything is lacking from this album, it would be more of this. Happyends with another fun track (are you sensing a pattern here?) called “Poltergeist,” which builds a (dare I say) funky groove around the ukulele.
From the opening notes, Happydemands that you get up and move, enthusiastically plowing through songs that could easily be dismissed as novelty were they not so damn catchy and performed so honestly. Production notes from the recording included, “Dying on a raft version of Ry Cooder’s Viola Lee Blues,” and, “All ELO, all day long ELO, only Uke driven,” and to be honest, I don’t think I can top that description. The album is weird, unpretentious, unaffected, and just plain fun, and if you don’t have fun while listening to it, it says more about you than it does the album.
- Russian Bride
- Sweet Marie
- Fractured Muse
- Dinosaur on the Moon
- Paranoid Paranoid
- Wound Up
- Blanket Stealer
- Grasshopper’s Fate