Album review: Flugente 2
January 23, 2010
Angry, wryly insightful and often very funny, once-and-future Blam frontman Jerry Adler AKA Flugente takes his game up a step on his second solo, mostly acoustic cd. His first one, a metaphorically charged account of a European road trip, made the top twenty on our Best Albums of 2007 list and this one, an even more ambitious look at the current state of America, might well do that too. It's awfully early in the year to say that, but this is a hell of an album. With distant echoes of Leonard Cohen and closer ones of vintage Dylan, Adler is quick with a clever, daggerlike lyrical twist, setting his rhymes and rants to catchy, sixties-inflected folk and blues tunes. Adler may have his issues with this country, but he's nothing if not fair-minded, and he doesn't want to break off the relationship: "C'mon, apple, tempt me."
Slide guitar blazing beneath a tersely strummed acoustic, the cd's opening track is a road song, "Looking for America, the country or the dream," its hungry narrator nonplussed by the "stretched-tight faces over sables yawning underneath their playbills" that he meets along the way - you know that this guy is a populist from day one. The second track is a fast fingerpicked indie blues tune, somewhat evocative of David J's solo work. I Have Turned Down Gifts and Prizes recalls a poorly received gig in his native country: "That's not entertainment, what are you doing?" someone asks. "I'm not doing this for you, I'm doing it for me...it's important just to say it," he asserts, a shot in the arm for serious songwriters everywhere.
People Come from All Around is a genuine New York classic, a deliciously evocative anti-trendoid rant. The idle rich and their idler children may make easy targets, but this is the lyrical equivalent of pulling out an Uzi in a crowd at a Dan Deacon appearance. And the yuppies don't get off any easier:
The Wall Street men on their way downtown from college, their bits are chafing
Fill their bags and take the subway home, their wives are waiting
With their temperatures taken upside down and ovulating
Yeah people come from all around to make a life in my hometown
But it's not what it used to be, only the crumbs are left for me now
A fingerpicked blues a la early Dylan but with better guitar, Which Side Am I On? reminds that choosing sides isn't really an issue when the issue isn't black-and-white. Any Time Now is an update on the theme that Leonard Cohen mined with similar success on Who By Fire. There's also a brutally amusing, cynical number about jury duty and a new version of America the Beautiful which redefines that anthem much in the same way the Clash redid When Johnny Comes Marching Home. The album winds up with a straight-up cover of the Kinks' Apeman, Adler raising his voice to a rare snarl when he gets to the part about how "the air pollution is fucking up my eyes." For fans of the best of the new wave of great lyricists: Joe Pug, Jennifer O'Connor, Paula Carino and LJ Murphy as well as fans of the first-wave classics that Flugente's songs more closely resemble.
The Daily News
Flugente draws you in from the opening strains of the Dylan-esque "I'm Hungry and a Long, Long, Long, Long Way From Home" and the first-rate tracks continue with "I Have Turned Down Gifts and Prizes", "Which Side Am I On?, and "I Swear To Tell the Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth So Help Me God". Adler's "America the Beautiful" is one of the best moments on "2", and his slower-paced cover of The Kinks' "Apeman" brings the proceedings to a satisfying close. This one's worth seeking out.
This is stripped down and raw where the musical focus is on unadorned Americana, a captivating blend of folk, alt-country, and pop. If you like anyone from Bob Dylan to Lucinda Williams, I think there might a place in your music collection for this guy.
Continuing the narrative that traces a path from Woody Guthrie through modern day artists such as The Felice Brothers, Flugente is a testament to just how far American acoustic music has come as we enter the second decade of the 21st century. With strikingly poetic lyrics; captivating, almost whispered harmonies; and twanging fingerpicked guitar, I have to say I think this guy desrves a lot of attention.
The Skeleton Crew Quarterly
Ahead of the pack is surely Flugente, solo project for The Blam ringleader Jerry Adler. His voice, an unhinged rasp of yearning, could easily belong to a man approaching mid-life crisis but it's Adler's guitar-picking, punch-drunk and limber, that reveals his youth on Flugente 2. That energy enlivens a track like "I Swear To Tell the Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth So Help Me God", a humorous but thoroughly cynical tale of jury duty, and validates Adler's storytelling voice next to Guthrie's or Dylan's. Memorable as that yarn is, Flugente 2's highlights are all rooted in somber arrangements that showcase his melodic acoustics and earnest lyrics. "It's Not Just the Summer That Is Ending" seems to catch Adler aging with his autumnal imagery while "I Can't Wait Anymore" rests upon terse finger-picked chords and a piano-tapped chorus that breaks him free of all rust. Both resonate like instant classics and seem destined to make waves -- be it now or in fifty years. I'd prefer now. Seriously, these songs need to be heard.
As sharp and well-groomed as most of Flugente 2 is, it's countered by a smattering of tracks that defy the listeners' embrace. First to disappoint is "Which Side Am I On?", a longwinded ramble with no discernable lyrical aim beyond exhausting every rhyme in Flugente's rhyme-book. At least that track sounds in keeping with Adler's rustic introspection; "Apeman', on the other hand, suffers from a smorgasbord of problems, the least of which being that it's a Kinks cover. Gently performed and -- let's face it -- pretty hokey, "Apeman" ends the album on a disparaging note, diluting Adler's wit and charisma into an out-of-context whimper. Only in extenuating circumstances like this can the idea of closing on Flugente 2's previous track, "America the Beautiful", seem like a really good idea.
That only a few bad apples have rubbed so much resentment into this listener should speak volumes of Flugente 2's hinted genius. If Jerry Adler can hone his political sentiments in ways he's proven capable of wielding with the emotional, Flugente might just achieve the recognition that eluded modern folk's grandfather.
Stop Okay Go
Following a road-trip in Europe that culminated in self-reflective songwriting sessions that lead to the original Flugente collection, Adler is back surfing the acoustic strings of Americana highway-folk that made Flugente a successful outing.
The refreshing acoustic polishing of "It's Not Just the Summer That Is Ending" is matched instrumentally by its bittersweet stripped down lyrics, while "People Come From All Around" takes a metaphoric rocking-chair approach at an anthropological scope fixed on city life.
Jerry Adler's continuing journey evolves and presses on in a soothing acoustic reflection with a great folk album for 2010.
Sunset in the Rear View
Other accolades for Flugente - Flugente 2
"It's ok, it's ok" whispers Adler at the end of the initial song, Animals, after he's worked himself into a frenzy, clearly fed up with the same old rut. Memo to self: chill out before you hurt yourself or someone else. The next cut finds him in Spain on his 38th birthday, all by himself and slowly losing it:
Yeah I'm lying in the bed of a famous artist
The following track is a flashback to night in New York. The wee hours. The narrator jolted from his sleep by the earsplitting screech of a garbage truck's reverse-gear alarm. Homicide is an option, contemplated but eventually abandoned. He ends up waking up late in a room with walls stained by "blood from other evenings."
Jump cut to Europe again on track four, Reflections in France on the Subject of Sleeping in the Rain. One of the creepiest vocals ever recorded, Adler's gleeful grin only underscoring the barely restrained rage of a man who's reached his limit and might just do theunspeakable: "I guess this is not my day of reckoning," he intones.
Eventually the trip takes an encouraging turn, on Reflections in Italy on the Subject of Speaking Again. Then another rainstorm (lots of rain on this album, almost Dostoyevskyan), with Standing Pissing on the Pebbles. But the rage has congealed, the inspiration concretized, and he's reinvigorated, not ready to give in. This comes to a spectacular crescendo on the next track, It's a Modern World. "Death to all hipsters!" rails Adler in this furious broadside against the corruption of Bushite apocalypse-mongers and the effeteness of the privileged classes. It's mostly a rap, the guitar kicking in only when the song's almost,over, and it's a genuine classic. "The world needs, people singing these songs and at least I can say I'm,singing one," he concludes. Live in concert, watching the audience at a Flugente show during this song is an experience to die for: slack jaws drop even lower, glazed eyes begin to focus from behind carefully coiffed mops of greasy hair and the occasional muttered curse word can even be heard.
After that, in From a Hilltop Cabin, he ends up in Switzerland looking down on the "belly of the beast" and not looking forward to going home. While his father came to this bastion of Nazi collaboration to kill, Adler realizes that he's here for a completely opposite reason. Hope has returned, even in the presence of six million ghosts.
On the cd's concluding cut, I'm Thinking about Going Home, Adler returns from the trip liberated, not particularly happy to be back but ready to embrace all that makes this city beautiful, in its uniquely twisted way. The secret? What he probably was doing before slipping into the chasm: getting off the couch, away from the tv and going out. Seeing people instead of just talking to them on the phone. Living as intensely as we can do only here. All this may seem obvious, but to so many of us, scattered across the five boroughs, working way too many hours, getting too little sleep and maybe polluting ourselves with things almost as toxic as what we have to deal with on the job, it's a welcome reminder.
This album speaks with a universality to anyone who has lived here and loved this town. Adler is New York to the core: tough, urbane, full of self-effacing black humor. He's a master of understatement and ellipsis: violence is always alluded to, never oncamera, but never far away. Things are defined by antithesis, shadows, what they're not supposed to be.
Flugente is terrific live.
If the elements - minimal, traditional, political - seem to overlap, that's because they do. It's the weave that bonds this style of folk fabric. There's a Kerouacian sense to this music that fits well with the traveling folk musician - not to be confused with the touring musician - though decidedly less under the influence. It conjures imagery of vagabonds on trains, lonely wilderness nights by campfires that aren't quite warm enough, plucking the strings to earn a few that'll get'cha to the next town. Kind of reminds one of Utah Phillips, in a way.
In a statement by Adler, he relays to the reader his thoughts on the album in a very understanding and very down-to-earth sort of way. He knows the album is different and accepts that. And he knows that the album, likely, was more for him as a form of expression, rather than a tool to make it into history books. He states:
"I have made a strange record and I am aware that it is not for everybody. It is part music, part poetry, part performance piece (if you hear it live), part personal commentary, and part social commentary. It is not necessarily easy to listen to, and maybe not even fun to listen to. Those criteria, however, are too often given far more weight than they deserve. This record is original. That is not a qualitative evaluation of its contents, but rather a simple acknowledgment of the process from which it came. It is original because it is a genuine statement of what I am about as a human being at this time in my life and in this place in the world."
That sort of honesty and understanding is hard to come by and it is ideals like these that make Flugente shine. Whether you like it or not, that's for you to decide. But giving it a listen is something everyone should do.
#19 in Lucid Culture's Top Twenty Albums of 2007