“I’m never, ever going to have a record review that doesn’t at least start off with some mention of my participation in Wilco, you know – and a comparison of my music now to the contributions I made to Wilco’s music – or what Wilco was then to what Wilco is now. That’s just reality – I’m never going to be taken just completely on my own; it’s always going to get set up in that context. Of course, a certain amount of that is appropriate, because you need your lead-in paragraph. Well … I kinda come with a built-in lead-in paragraph.”
From a conversation with Jay Bennett – August, 2008
So there’s that. No one could’ve said it better, Jay.
Now let’s move on to the matter at hand.
The first act of the newly-formed Jay Bennett Foundation (a family-spearheaded organization supporting music and education) is the release of the album Bennett completed prior to his death in May of 2009. Kicking at the Perfumed Air (a phrase taken from the opener “Diamond Smiles” – you just wait) is classic Jay Bennett: a buffet of sound gumbos and stripped-to-the-heart-of-the-matter sonic flatbread, seasoned with sprinklings of humor, pathos, and irony.
Upon first listen, Kicking at the Perfumed Air recalls Todd Rundgren’s 1972 pop masterpiece Something/Anything, three-quarters of which was all Rundgren. (Percentage-wise, Bennett may have the Runt beat: except for a couple of cameos from buddies Edward Burch and David Vandervelde, the album is pretty much Jay backing Jay and Jay with additional help from Jay.) The cuts on Kicking are raw, leaving count-ins and verbal sticky notes in place here and there as we go from the hold-your-breath-and-hang-on lurch of “Hotel Song” to guitar-on-the-back lonesome troubadour tales (“When Heaven Held The World” and “Footprints”).
Oh, the vibe: here we have what sounds like Ziggy-era David Bowie with George Harrison on guitar (“Mirror Ball”); over here we have a bouncy cousin to Mike Gordon’s “Andelmans’ Yard” (“Invitation”); and the deceptively sing-alongable hooks of “Cartoon Physics” and “Twice A Year” will break your heart when you’re not looking. Prefer your drinking songs to be equal parts cerebral and goofy? Belly up and savor “Second Last Call” (featuring a brilliant wild-ass slide guitar solo) and the barstool honesty of “Beer”.
You have to wonder how many people would suspect that “Diamond Smiles” (the only cover on Kicking) was first recorded by The Boomtown Rats in 1979? Not many, I don’t believe: Bennett takes ownership, canning the Rats’ prancing carnival swirl and infusing the song with a Tom Waits-ish vibe, weird and chilling. There’s a whole movie in the tune’s 4 minutes and 12 seconds.
Jay Bennett’s family and friends did it right when they gathered up the tracks for Kicking at the Perfumed Air: they knew not to try to pretty or slick or polish anything up. What you have is what the man laid down with his own hands, head, and heart.
This music has nothing to do with being an ex- anything. It’s simply about being human.
You done good, Jay.