The word that always seems to find its way into any article, interview, review, or press package revolving around Jay Bennett is `multi-instrumentalist.’ Harrumph. I can play the kazoo, the tambourine, and the triangle. You don’t see me calling myself a `multi-instrumentalist’ now, do you? Ok, maybe I’m just a little jealous. Jay Bennett is an extremely talented individual and I have been known to sing his praises as an underrated member of Wilco on the albums Being There and Summer Teeth. I have also said that he was probably axed from the group because Jeff Tweedy just can’t get along with guys named Jay. Bennett had a chance to prove me right with his solo releases on Undertow Records.
The Beloved Enemy, the latest release from Jay Bennett, is actually the second album in a trilogy. The first was entitled Bigger than Blue and the third will be called The Magnificent Defeat and will be released in early 2005. Bigger than Blue was a step in the right direction and actually featured John Stiratt, Ken Coomer, and wouldn’t you know it, Jeff Tweedy himself. I guess there wasn’t all that much animosity. The Beloved Enemy, on the other hand, is, unfortunately, a step backwards. Although the songs are crafted well, subdued, sweeping, and pretty, it is Bennett’s vocal chores that leave something to be desired. Bennett croaks and whines his way through nine slow and weepy tunes including a cover of Tori Amos’ “Pretty Good Year.”
As stated earlier, the songs are decently written. Bennett is an accomplished songwriter and musician and deserves respect and admiration. What is missing from this record that I found so pleasurable from his time with Wilco was an accomplished voice. Maybe I’m putting too much emphasis on the fact that I was looking for something as good as Wilco, but then again, listening to Bennett sing, especially in the first song, “Fifty Cent Words,” I can only liken it to hearing Bruce Springsteen create an album after someone killed his puppy.
That being said, The Beloved Enemy is not a bad album, just an imperfect one. Bennett’s `multi-instruments’ bend, twang, and flutter along emotional landscapes. He is doing what he does best, create worthy heartfelt songs and lyrics that melt the heart. I just can’t help wondering how great these songs would have been coming out of Tweedy’s vocal chords. Oh well.
Neil Young- Tonight’s the Night
Richard & Linda Thompson- Shoot Out the Lights
Grant Lee Phillips- Virginia Creeper