The Corin Tucker Band

Kill My Blues
Kill Rock Stars

It’s been six years since Sleater-Kinney went on hiatus. For many music lovers, myself included, June 27, 2006 will forever remain a day of black sadness. Oh, it had been in the air for quite a while. It wasn’t exactly a surprise. But still.

Early Sleater-Kinney

Within the preceding twelve years, Sleater-Kinney had released seven albums, several of them transformative classics. Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker founded the band in late 1993. In 1994, on a trip to Australia in celebration of Tucker’s graduating from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Brownstein and Tucker, along with a local Australian drummer, Lora (Laura) Macfarlane, recorded what was to be Sleater-Kinney’s eponymously entitled first album.

Heavens to Betsy

But even before Sleater-Kinney, Brownstein and Tucker had acquired notoriety around Olympia and beyond—Carrie as the chief singer and guitarist in a band called Excuse 17. Tucker acted as lead vocalist and guitarist with her fledgling group Heavens to Betsy and was one of the harbingers of the rowdy “riot grrrl” movement that thrived in Olympia the early ‘90s. Even at that early date Corin’s abilities as songwriter and lead banshee vocalist were already acquiring for her a bit of a reputation in these here parts.

So, then Carrie and Corin formed Sleater-Kinney, a band with a tough, vaguely militant feminist stance, and the brains and talent to get the point across. They released that first album, and recorded and released their follow-up LP, Call the Doctor, in 1996, with Macfarlane (who in the interim had moved to Washington from Australia) drumming. That album garnered for the band increased attention, not only in the Northwest, but nationwide.

Janet Weiss

In 1997, rock goddess drummer, Janet Weiss, late of Motorgoat, Quasi and Jr. High joined the firm in time to take the chair for Sleater-Kinney’s third release, the seminal Dig Me Out. Propelled by Weiss’ incomparably solid percussive fusillade, and Tucker and Brownstein’s constant development as musicians and songwriters, that album jettisoned the band into national prominence, which they maintained and expanded upon for the remainder of their run.

One Beat

By the dawn of Century 21, S-K had carved for themselves a very secure niche in the national music scene. Renowned music critics Greil Marcus and Rober Christgau championed the band. In 2001, writing for Time magazine, Marcus called Sleater-Kinney “America’s Best Rock Band.” After taking most of 2001 off, so that Tucker could take care of her newborn baby boy, the band regrouped to continue with their musical onslaught. With the release of One Beat in 2002 (reviewed in Two Louies September, 2002, where you will also find a more detailed bio of the band) their ambitions for world domination began to find real traction.

Sleater-Kinney was at its creative zenith and, going forward, the possibilities seemed endless. After touring North America with Pearl Jam in 2003, the band incorporated elements of their newfound “arena rock” sound into their sonic foundation while preparing to record their next release. But, there was more talk of a longer break. Corin mentioned in several interviews the difficulties she was having in balancing riot grrrldom with motherhood. Carrie was exploring other opportunities outside of music. And Janet Weiss will never have to look for a gig. Ever.

The Woods

Sleater-Kinney released their final (to date) recording, The Woods, in early 2005 (reviewed for Two Louies May, 2005). A year later they were on hiatus and going their separate ways. Always in high demand, Weiss has gone on to drum for numerous high profile acts, most notably Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. Not missing a beat, Carrie Brownstein quickly began blogging for NPR in 2007, while conducting several high-profile interviews for the network as well. She then formed Wild Flag in 2010 (with Weiss, Mary Timony from Helium on guitar and the Minders’ Rebecca Cole on keys). Their wonderful self-titled debut album hit the streets in September, 2011. And then, of course, there is her star-turn as writer and actor with the cult-hit and Peabody Award-winning television series Portlandia on the Independent Film Channel—now in production for a third season. Put a bird on it.

CTB: Lund, Tucker, Lorinczi

Corin Tucker did indeed become a stay-at-home mom for her son Marshall, and later begat a baby girl, Glory! in 2008. But in 2010 she returned to the fray, recording what she called her “middle-aged mom record.” And 1,000 Years was a departure from Corin’s work with Sleater-Kinney. Supported by drummer Sara Lund (Unwounds) and guitarist Seth Lorinczi (Golden Bears) whom she had known since the Olympia days, it was a mellow affair, more so than any predecessors. Corin hardly delivered any of her requisite elk-call vocals. While the album met with modest critical praise, longtime fans bemoaned the new more “mature” perspective. Those hoping for the Corin of old were sadly disappointed. The lukewarm response was not dissimilar to that Liz Phair received at the release of her maternally domestic third album, Whitechocolatespaceeg.

CTB: Lorinczi, Tucker, Clark, Lund (Photo by Robin Clark)

Now, rapidly approaching forty, she has rebooted for her sophomore effort: Corin Tucker 2.0. With Lund and Lorinczi once again in tow, and with the addition of Jick, Mike Clark, here as bassist and keyboard contributor, long-time fans will be happy to know that Corin Tucker is back! All the way back. It is a mature album, she’s long departed from her Evergreen days to be sure. But the voice, womanhood’s answer to Zach de la Rocha, is here present and accounted for: a satisfying album. A little something for fans from all eras.

It takes about thirty seconds into “Groundhog Day” before you figure out that this album is nothing like the first, and that the former Sleater-Kinney fireball still has gas left in the tank. Prickly guitars front a gentle verse before the chorus explodes full scream. Lyrically, Corin tells the tale of what she’s been up to for the past few years. “Hey, que pasa/I’ve just woken up…I took a rest/ took some time off/Be a mom have some kids.” But then, raising her voice, in the second verse she begins to question the passions that she and her generation knew, pioneering the women’s movement in the music industry. “Hey, what’s up y’all/I thought we had a plan…” The chorus rocks hard and serves to define the musical terrain for what follows.

The intro to the title track, “Kill My Blues,” is driven by a familiar-sounding serrated Fender Rhodes sound, a spiffy riff—radiohead-y—playing seven against eight before the song breaks out with muscular droning guitar in the turns and chorus. Corin alternates hot and cool vocals from line to line. A tasty two-string-octave solo skims into a stirring bridge and resumes the solo, which slides into the keyboard intro and out. Well played, CTB, well played.

Energetic, chirping guitars beckon the way to “Neskowin.” Corin’s lunging vibrato wail flails in all its majesty here. “Darling I know/I don’t go/Like the other girls/It’s just I enjoy/Other toys/Other faculties.” She details what sound like the fairly innocent adventures of a couple of teenage girls on a family vacation. I can’t tell lyrically, but somewhere along the line, all kinds of hell broke loose on that vacation. The surf-y middle break moves into a Lene Lovich section, then to an extended chorus where Corin displays a wondrous swooping intensity, ululating like a fluted peacock British police siren.

Corin as Poly

Producer Alicia Rose’s video depiction of this song is dedicated to Poly Styrene of X-ray Specs (one of Tucker’s big early influences). But vocally, Corin doesn’t really sound that much like the late Poly— except that they both shout a lot. Actually, Tucker sounds more like Styrene on “I Don’t Wanna Go” where she does some serious bellerin’.

Calling to mind the riff from the Stones’ “Paint It Black,” the exotic guitar intro of “Constance” dissolves into a beat in the verses of which Phil Spector would heartily approve. A raspy Farfisa adds more ‘60s flair in the turns, leading to the churning chords of a “Smells Like Teen Spirit” inspired chorus. Then the slippery Farfisa returns for the bridge: a medieval affair with delicate vocal rounds. The Farfisa takes a brief solo and goes all gurgly Philip Glass, before the Nirvana thunder of the chorus kicks in again. This song is what we in the business refer to as a “tour de force.”

With the ‘80s new wavy, “No Bad News Tonight” Lund wheels driving toms and a hard-hitting surf snare. Corin’s vocal melody follows the chattering single-string lead guitar figure in a duet. She fires off a groovy guitar solo, which crashes to an ending that sort of fizzles to an abrupt halt.

CTB Live

Lund’s opening snare salvo on “Summer Jams” gives one the mistaken impression that they are about to hear a slightly speeded up version of Blur’s “Song 2,” but no. CTB heads in a different direction with tight bass/rhythm guitar interplay, churning against two-crunchy chords. At the turn, the song floats into infectious backing vocal chortles: “woo-oo, woo-oo-oo, woo” calling to mind the Dandy Warhols more than Blur. A sterling instrumental break, a lively African Highlife bass and guitar dance, follows—then into an intricate clockwork section, ticking methodically—which segues to a rock-y finish. Like Throwing Muses or Belly for the 21st century. A very satisfying track.

Church-like organ and dappled piano lend “None Like You” an ecclesiastical feel, buoying a mysterious  lyric. “Come gather children/Gather around/Night of December, our mother found/She lifted us with light touch/She put us down/Candle in each window led us back to her now.” It’s difficult to say what the song is about, exactly. Themes of motherhood, but something darker, like a fairy tale. Maybe witchcraft?

CTB Live

A nervous rotisserie of guitar and subtle electronics slowly begins to spin above the low inferno of the arrangement, amplifying the tension of the ominous lyric. Suddenly, dramatically, Lund sprays Gatling snare shots into the scene and the song gallops off like a frightened steed. The influence of Patti Smith seems to linger in the atmosphere surrounding Corin’s vocal on this song. She urgently repeats the lines of the chorus until she is drowned out by onrushing drums and a throaty sluice of overdriven guitar.

“Joey” is not the Concrete Blonde song of the same name, but it may be a reference to Joey Ramone, who was memorialized in an S-K song, way back when. Prickly skip stumblefall intro riffery and smackage resolve into straightahead verses and a lullabye chorus. But at the backend of one of those choruses Corin erupts into an intense “Joey-eeee” yowl. A fine interplay of tortured guitars wrestle an extended solo and back to the chorus, where the guitars gnarl pure elegance behind Corin, baying mournfully. A very well-controlled piece.

Stirring piano accompaniment and filigree guitar figures buffet the torchy “Blood, Bones, and Sand.” It’s a low-key affair, with a powerful vocal— without being over the top. Nice. The final cut, “Tiptoe” is strung along a jagged guitar line, sort of Zeppish in consistency, backed by thundering Bonham-washed toms.

CTB Live

My girlfriend thinks Corin sounds like Geddy Lee. I’ve conceived of many female vocalists with whom Corin Tucker is in a league, but not a male vocalist—and Geddy Lee never would have occurred to me, though the observation is not inaccurate. I’m more inclined to think of Ann Wilson. Whatever the case…jeez. Corin can kick it as well as just about anybody. Maybe a little more organic than the others. Wheezy organ accents wither and flit between a fiery guitar solo, back briefly to the vocal turn, back to a smoldering second solo and wham. Lights out.

1000 Years, the first Corin Tucker Band album, was pretty much her performing with a backup band, not a lot of interplay. This album is executed by a fully formed unit, running perfectly on all four-cylinders, blowing blue flames out the exhaust pipe. CTB is now a real (and quite formidable) band.

Seth Lorinczi and Mike Clark are simply superlative in everything they contribute to the record: guitars, bass, and keyboards. The instrumentation is varied and very powerful, but cohesive and of a kind—and always in support of a song’s arrangement. Always the perfect choice. Sara Lund proves herself to be an absolute monster on drums, expertly bashing through the heavy sections, imparting great sensitivity in the more delicate segments.

Corin Tucker

The evolution of what once was Sleater-Kinney is now set fully into motion. All the members are now officially growing as artists on their own—individually moving toward new challenges. All three of them are emerging as stars in their own right. Understandably, Corin Tucker has held back. She took five years off to raise her children, and her first return to music and recording was tentative. Now, two years later, Corin would seem to have completely recovered her confidence as a singer and performer. It’s all here in spades. Kill My Blues is a great album.



Sara Jackson-Holman

Expunged Records

Things have been moving awfully fast over the past couple of years for talented young Sara Jackson-Holman. The story is fairly well known: about her casually opportune interaction with Anthony McNamer, head of Expunged Records—Blind Pilot’s label—via her random post on the band’s fan page. Subsequently McNamer arbitrarily checked out Sara’s MySpace page, where she had posted home recordings of a few of her songs, a decision that eventually led to her signing on with the record company without the benefit of so much as a demo. Ah, kismet!

In May of 2010 under the guidance of Blind Pilot producer Skyler Norwood, Sara released When You Dream, her debut album on the Expunged label. Seemingly within weeks “Into the Blue” a song from that album was chosen as soundtrack for the climactic last scene of the Season 2 finale of the ABC series Castle wherein Beckett is forced to confront Castle’s apparent emotional indifference toward her and their relationship (or so I gather online, I’ve never seen the program). Sara’s halting ballad—her fluttery vibrato all slippery quivery, with sad strings sobbing behind her—melted hearts across the nation, the song standing on it’s own musical merits, while carving her name into the hearts of thousands.

Though songwriting is a relatively new component in her musical career, Sara has a background in classical piano. She was studying music and writing at Whitworth University when her career had its auspicious inauguration. She had only been writing songs two years and had no previous studio experience when her first album was released. In short order she learned about the music business: how the music is created, and the wheels of commerce that turn behind it.

When You Dream was met with moderate public acclaim—enough so that laying the groundwork for her sophomore effort was begun almost immediately. Over the ensuing year, Sara spent her time immersed in the songwriting craft. Still in her early twenties, she began to think for the first time in terms of the scope and sphere of music production and the studio experience, creating several dense, multi-track demos at home, which she brought to this project.

Along with Sara’s increased input, Skyler Norwood has returned to the producer’s chair for Cardiology. In addition, Keith Schreiner (Auditory Sculpture, Dahlia) is on board to contribute beats and synth programming. He also had a hand in producing several of this album’s stronger tracks (there aren’t actually any weak ones).

The result is a natural progression from the previous record, yet a bit of a jarring departure at the same time. What was classical folk pop keyboard flavored music has evolved here into technoclassical popfolk electronica. It’s not at all heavy-handed in execution. But Sara Jackson-Holman’s music is all about nuance and subtlety. Any new addition creates a stylistic domino-effect that reverberates through the entire project.

We begin with “Cartography” a moody, slow moving number ornamented with wheezing organ, wincing splinters of keyboard accent, humming synth, and watery washes of treated piano. From that, Sara’s uncertain vocal unfurls in “Copper fields and half dreamt dreams…” a sleepy confession of infatuation. “Cut the corner, circle round/Where you are then I am found.”

In singing that line Sara gives indication that she be may be suffering the initial stages of the dreaded Colin Meloy “Affected Enunciation Disease,” an impediment—which, if left unchecked—can become, as Mister Meloy will attest, almost impossible to fully eradicate. Take steps now, Sara. This disease is preventable. Don’t do it. It’s a bad habit. A lovely braid of harmony vocals wrap around the sweet chorus of this delicate, if directionally indeterminate number.

“Can’t Take My Love” has a distinct soul vibe at its core. Vocally, Sara renders a fair assimilation of Macy Gray’s “I Try,” with a touch of Aretha’s “Until You Come Back to Me.” Over mechanical drums and drippy piano drops, brooding cello and violin cry—winding tensile tension with swelling intensity. Across that, Sara’s snaky vocal slithers through the verses, before opening up in a chorus that calls to mind Fiona Apple and Annie Lennox.

Yeah. Annie Lennox. That’s accurate. There are comparisons to the Eurythmics and “Here Comes the Rain” that could be made here. A little zippier arrangement or a tarted up re-mix and this is a totally mainstream radio-friendly hit song, not that it isn’t radio friendly already.

Befitting of her penchant for classical music, echoes of Beethoven’s “Für Elise” serve as thematic inspiration for the intro and chords to “For Albert,” one of a number of songs written in response to the recent passing of Sara’s grandfather. After a brief, solemn intro, the song busts out into a full-on mini-simulation of Giorgio Moroder-gilded disco sensibility. Or a reasonable facsimile thereof, given our distant proximity to that era at this advancing date. The ironic drum machine-like snare is a nice touch. There is an Adele meets Florence and the Machine quality about this song. The Eurythmics are circulating through as well.

The lush “Freight Train” is a ballad dappled with piano and emotive strings—another tribute to her grandfather. Elegaic. Feist and Norah Jones come to mind as vocal/musical references. A piquant little gem of a song. The Schreiner produced ballad “Break My Heart” feels a little like the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” (without the driving synth riff). Kate Bush and latter-day Tori Amos come to mind as vocal references in the chorus. Nice.

Julee Cruise’s theme from Twin Peaks could serve as the model for “Empty Arms.” A stumbling low synth figure bounces ungainly as Sara vocally evokes Leslie Feist with a haltingly understated vocal delivery. Somber but uplifting—in a determined sort of way. Skyler Norwood’s production of “To Be Bright,” is (over?) wrought with white noise gunshot beats. Those beats tend to get in the way of an awful lot of cool sonic information and may not be necessary to the betterment of the song. Otherwise, Fiona Apple and Adele meet Kate Bush over at the Eurythmics’ house. Great song.

With just voice and solitary unadorned piano, “Oh My Honey” seems more indicative of who Sara Jackson-Holman really is, behind the sheer veils of studio “magic.” “Come By Fire” is similar in construct—but for the sightest coloration near the end of the tune. More than any others found here, those two songs hearken back to the first album.

Drippy hollow-log synth tones set the mood for “Risk It All,” before the song slips into the bluesy soul-essence feel as heard on “Can’t Take My Love.” Driven by gurgling synths, and schizophrenic drum patches (it may be Skyler Norwood on drums—but they sound treated), Sara purrs and coos like Macy Gray. It’s a new vocal style she’s trying on here, so she’s not self-assured in the presentation. But just the same, Sara has hit upon a sound that could work for her going forward. She could easily out-Adele Adele at some near future date. Schreiner’s burbling synth line in the chorus is nicely executed.

Another hit in the making is the Schreiner produced “My Biggest Mistake.” The song dithers around in the verses, stuttering on crazy syncopated drum beats before busting out on an especially memorable chorus. Here, Sara registers one of her strongest, most original vocal performances. A harbinger of what she’s capable of attaining. Annie Lennox again comes to mind, in Sara’s clipped phrasing in the chorus, especially.

“Do I Make It Look Easy?” is one of the best creations of the set—an Appleish minor key piano prance. And finally, producer Norwood provides a real, big-beat, drum kit which lends considerable oomph to the proceedings. Compared to the other songs, it sounds like arena rock! Sara contributes a fine vocal— maybe: Apple meets Macy Gray. Sneaky sassy. Nicely done.

A moody, tender ballad “Cardiology” is very pretty, but is marred by a rather annoying martial beat. Sad synth figures fill out the peripheries, while the center ripens with angelic vocal harmonies and slow, pizzicato heartstrings, melding with the melodic bark of a wounded synth flute.

Impeccable, pristinely sparse, understated arrangements are rife on Cardiology. But, at the same time they are sort of solemn, sterile and gloomy: morose. So, for the most part everything has this depressed, desolate Portishead-like sensibility. Sullen landscapes, thirteen shades of Sara gray.

But her musical influences would seem broader than a scale from black to white. Here she presents a highly stylized sound—quirky synths, no guitars whatsoever, string and piano accoutrements, electronic-like drums and/or hyperactive percussive support: not always a solid foundation upon to which the real substance of Sara’s songs might rest. This is especially true on some of her more soul oriented songs. But this will be the sort of choice Sara will confront as her career progresses. Who does she want to be? How does she want to sound?

Sara Jackson-Holman is a minor-key soul, no doubt. And, still being new to all this, she is not yet fully actualized as an artist. She’s still maturing, still developing a musical style and vocal persona. Just the same, the essence of a major talent is right at hand. Even with lyrics more cerebral than most pop works, Sara is quite capable of producing a hit song. She seems destined for big things. Any day now, for that matter. And when success befalls her, she can then make all of her choices on a grander scale, with a wider palette from which to choose colors for her accessibly charming music.


Let’s Make a Problem
Thon Music

I’m pretty sure we went all through this about six or eight years ago when I reviewed one of Jim Walker’s albums (Terrible Pictures of Harriet, 2005), here and (earlier, in 2003) here, for Two Louies in what we at Buko refer to as “the waning days.”  I remember that Walker had been going by the name Jeroan Van Aiken when he arrived in Portland from Los Angeles in the early ‘90s. He’d pretty much done it all, as far as a SoCal musician can do it—forming a band that achieved modest notoriety, performances in community theater, songs and scores for films, voice-over work for high-profile clients—pretty sweet deal.

Hieronymous Bosch, Self-Portrait

But, he ended up coming to Portland, as all musicians eventually must, where the livin’ is easy and the competition less fierce for all those influential gigs where you get paid what you were paid in 1992. (Fortunately, all musicians in Portland are independently wealthy and not availed of the necessity of “making a living,” as you people call it). So Jim came to Portland and he was Jeroan Van Aiken for a while. He probably was completely unaware of the fact that a variation of that name coincidently belonged to Hieronymus Bosch five or six hundred years earlier. It’s amazing how quickly these things depart the collective consciousness.

Garden of Earthly Delights – Bosch

Then, about five years ago, a Virginia band named Gregor Samsa (named, of course, after Kafka’s man-bug) released the lovely song “Jeroen Van Aken” to marginal response. It would not seem that their election to tribute Mister Bosch by name had anything to do with Jim Walker’s determination to stop using the name, seeing as how he made that decision many years in advance of the Samsa’s release. However it remains unclear as to whether Bosch’s people had been in touch with Jim at some earlier date. Word is they can be a tough bunch.

Whatever the case, at some point Jim Walker as Jeroan Van Aiken became JVA. The significance of all this is beyond my scope as a “reporter” to further elucidate. Those are the facts. Arrive at your own conclusions.

Jim Walker

The consummate songwriter, Jim has been plying his craft long enough to understand the structural components of a pop song and the proficiency required to fashion something original from them—a process not unlike the composition of haiku, wherein a certain precision and attention to detail are necessary just to get one of the damn things off the ground. Jim’s songs are familiar in context, but they tend to zig when you expect them to zag. After one hundred years or so of songwriting in the popular musical vernacular, I believe that is the highest compliment one can be paid.

Here we are given fourteen Walker originals. This is a true solo album, wherein Jim plays all the instruments and provides all the vocals (except backing vocals by Tiffany Carlson on a couple of tunes). The arrangements are uncomplicated, straightforward, succinct and varied in presentation, in some cases almost jarringly so.

The title of this endeavor, Let’s Make a Problem, might lead one to conclude it to be a biting polemic regarding the vicissitudes of unprotected sex. So, perhaps appropriately, we begin with “Sin.” It’s an acapella all-percussion accompaniment number, sort of Bobby McFerrin in nature, but much steamier than anything Bobby ever did (especially impressive is the tambourine)—and the “jungle” knob is dialed up to about 11. The dubby, “Baby, would you do that?” section is especially exotic. A memorable hook. Unusual.

Jim Walker in Concert

“Concrete Hearts” moseys off in a whole ‘nother direction. It’s a twangy Tele, western-tinged tune with subtly supple piano and acoustic guitar backing. Vocally, here and elsewhere, Jim demonstrates the gritty edge of Glenn Frey and Don Henley with a touch of Timothy Schmitt sweetness. Eaglesesque. That’s a nice word for this song. A well-honed bridge sharpens the focus—“The days fall hard as rain and I can’t stand it/no place to go nothing to do/Each night’s an empty space, just how I planned it/Just passing time without you.” Walker’s Mark Knopfler-inspired guitar solo lends a windblown winsome quality.

Returning to a more modern production approach, “Kiss of Glass” rumbles with tumbling hand drums, creating an atmosphere rife with tension. Eerie. Rubbery bass and tightly clenched guitar play against a ghostly ‘80s synth wash in the turns. A middle-eastern flavored middle section adds to the smoky, mysterious atmosphere.

Acoustic guitar, piano and a big drumbeat drive “Come and Gone,” a Paul Simon-like  composition. In a boyish tenor, Walker sings “Don’t tap the thin glass in my head/Coz the blackbirds circle there again/I see her faces in my sleep/So crowded in my dreams, I count a million fucking sheep” in a memorable bridge. “Bones” could be the work of “Dirty Laundry” era Don Henley—coarse in texture with a creamy pop center. Fine vocal harmonies and a catchy hook make this a memorable tune.

A solitary piano introduction leads the tender ballad “Oranges” toward a more uncomplicated backing of light drums, bass, and dueting acoustic guitar. Lyrically, Walker weighs his world from a William S. Burroughsian perspective “Oh Maria, dressed in black/Desert heat and vodka thin/Empty seed pods scuttle in/Dead palms shade like insect wings.” Dig it.

Jim Walker

“Into the Sea” is dead ringer Eagles, circa Hotel California. Jim’s grainy voice is buoyed upon a wave of foamy acoustic guitar and sinister electric guitar fills. A familiar twine of melody wraps sinuously around the arrangement. Nicely turned. “Love Coming Through” is tougher in context, the grit in Jim’s voice more metallic, while the sentiment is softer. “Once” is mellower still, as Jim sounds like Glenn Frey uttering quiet confessions over simple acoustic guitar backing.

Dark apparitions shadow the lovely “Carry the Ghost” “I breathe my last in the cloak of the night/cold as a grave…” A moving chorus follows, then Jim’s most ambitious bridge of the set. “Don’t make me walk this lonely, lonely earth.” Well hewn.

Latin percussion, a Rhodes-toned keyboard and Spanish guitar decorate “Human Sea,” the most lyrically complex song among the fourteen. It’s an in-depth study of human nature, an immoral morality play, resembling somewhat Marty Robbins’ “El Paso,” in its thematic admixture of dark, carnal passion and heroic outlaw justice. “He stayed behind so carefully/Far enough so she didn’t see/And I stayed several paces down from him/I knew what he was waiting for/That electric moment where/He’d catch her for an instant in the din/Finally she turned a corner/Instantly he was upon her/Covering her mouth before she screamed/I put my blade up to his throat/Pulled back hard and watched it flow/Tipped my hat to her and made my way/Back to the human sea.” Nice.

Simple, unadorned piano supports the quiet love song “Perfect Idiot,” creating a mood of heartfelt intimacy. A Tom Pettyish “Learning to Fly” acoustic guitar jangle informs “Z.” The pacing of the song is quick, yet halting—akin to something the Eel’s Mark “E” Everett might create. Vocally, Jim sounds like E on this song, as well. Tasty backing vocal harmonies (some provided by Ms. Carlson) and a different feel from the rest of the material make of this one of the best songs on the album.

“Luxury” bathes in low-string pathos akin to the intro guitar line on Boy George’s “The Crying Game.” Walker meets the atmosphere with an evocative vocal, quietly delivered. Here again, another fine bridge helps to take the song to a higher level. Jim displays a keen understanding of the purpose of a bridge and how to use it.

Long-time musical partner the Zesty Tim Ellis and Jim Walker

Let’s Make a Problem is a wonderful exhibition of technique and skill. Jim Walker’s abilities as a songwriter are a cut above most. He creates refined compositions that bear clear evidence of careful attention to detail. His arrangements are simple, but direct and to the point. Jim’s not a great musician, but surely quite good—and a fine technician. Besides, great musicians never made for a great song. But a great song has made many good musicians sound great. Consider Jim Walker to be among the latter contingent.