First Appeared at The Music Box, March 2001, Volume 8, #3
Written by T.J. Simon
Every analysis of Jules Shearís body of work seems fated to point out that while he has written hit songs for The Bangles and Cyndi Lauper, Shear has yet to sing a hit of his own. Reviewers then dredge up Shearís footnote in pop history as the host of MTVís Unplugged for the first 13 episodes. Inevitably, music journalists launch into an analysis of Shearís historic romance with Aimee Mann and the obvious influences that his music played upon Mannís own work. Well, this critic pledges not to fall into that trap.
Shearís last outing was a disappointing collection of duets titled Between Us. As with most of these types of collections, the album probably seemed like a better idea than it turned out to be. Back-and-forth verses with Rosanne Cash and Paula Cole did nothing to enhance Shearís nasal voice. Consequently, Shearís attempt to craft songs that lent themselves to the duet format landed with a hollow thud.
For his latest release Allow Me, Shear turned away from duets, and instead added backing vocalists Susan Cowsill (The Cowsills) and Vicki Peterson (The Bangles). The thoughtful use of back-up singers enhances Shearís music to a grandiose new level, and as a result, Shearís latest release is more aptly suited as a follow-up to his stellar 1994 outing Healing Bones. Peterson and Cowsill, who have recorded together with The Continental Drifters, add the "ooh-la-las" to this nearly-perfect singer-songwriter outing. Their angelic voices dress up Shearís own singing rather than accentuate his vocal limitations.
Musically, Shear has found a bigger sound on Allow Me as he folds layers of keyboards, horns, and harmonica into his songs, turning the album into a finely crafted piece of jangly guitar pop. The album begins with the single Hard Enough wherein the 48-year-old Shear offers sage advice to a self-destructive friend. Later, Shear delivers Hugging Her Guitar, which could easily evolve into a female-rock anthem when it is inevitably covered. In addition, he takes a notably up-tempo bluesy turn in The More that Iím around You. Thereís little doubt that Shear has been blessed with the ability to craft timeless pop songs without ever sounding formulaic or repetitive as he sings wry, observant lyrics peppered with clever turns-of-phrase.
Will this be the album that shoots Shear into superstardom and a stadium tour? Fat chance. Shear has been thrilling audiences in his fantastic live shows in intimate venues for years where his humor and style shine brightly. Donít be surprised, however, if songs from Allow Me become mega-hits when re-recorded by other artists. Itís that kind of album, and Shear is just that kind of guy.
Allow Me is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2001 The Music Box