Whatever the opposite of the “Peter Pan Syndrome” is, Marshall Crenshaw has it. Witness his new release, Jaggedland: Rather than denying the aging process, the lengthening shadows of mortality, and the occasional descent into the dank basement of depression, the Rhinebeck resident grapples defiantly with all of the above. Surprisingly, this makes for an inspiring song cycle; the result of Crenshaw’s wrestling with these dark angels is some of his most powerful material to date. His secret weapons? Some fine cohorts on both sides of the mixing desk, unpredictable-yet-rich melodies, and deft lyricism that often reflects the steadfast love of a good woman. And, oh yes—the excellent guitar playing. Can a Crenshaw version of Guitar Hero be far behind?
Although Crenshaw has kept busy —helping to raise a family, writing the Golden Globe-nominated title song to Walk Hard, jamming with the reunited MC5—he’s not released an album since 2003. Jaggedland finds Crenshaw embracing immediacy but also injecting a sonic intensity, to convey multiple layers of complex emotion (that you can hum). It’s an impressive balancing act and, with stand-up bass, vibraphone, viola, and even a guitar cameo by the MC5’s Wayne Kramer, a rich aural treat.
Drum god Jim Keltner (Beatles, Stones, Dylan) brings swing and subtle power, while multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz (Sheryl Crow, Robert Plant) offers his signature mournful steel guitar brushstrokes. It’s Crenshaw’s show, though. From the uplifting pulse of the wistful “Passing Through” to the graceful resignation of “Live and Learn,” he’s the one who has mined the rough-cut gems and wrought something beautiful. www.429records.com.