I have seen the future of rock and roll and he is a self-described cross-dressing bisexual Jew from Chicago. I’m only just kidding. Rock and roll, though regularly proclaimed to be dead, survives because somebody comes along and recombines its various influences in new ways. Ezra Furman is one of those guys. His music mines 1950s doo wop and sax solos, throws in hefty dose of early 1960s melodic melodrama, oozes 1970s pre-punk, and ties it together with an earnest reedy vocal style. Imagine if Dylan had gone electric but remained political, or Jonathan Richman had stayed the course on reinventing the Velvet Underground – you start to get some sense about what Furman is doing and capable of.
One of the many things I find impressive about Furman is his rock and roll chops. This is not some sloppy DIY punker making a late conversion to hipster indie cool, or an earnest singer-songwriter giving his angst the band treatment. Right from his 2007 debut you can hear how solid his grasp of rock and roll forms is on tracks like “She’s All I’ve Got Left.” 2008’s Inside the Human Body features a very Dylanesque “The World is Alive” and Velvet Underground/early Jonathan Richman-ish “Take Off Your Sunglasses.”
By the time Mysterious Power rolls out in 2011 Furman has expanded the melodic range of what he is doing: “Fall in Love with My World” manages to be plaintive without being pathetic, “Hard Time in a Terrible Land” sounds like a punked-up Pete Seeger, while “Mysterious Power” turns a simple guitar part into Furman’s most catchy and solid single to date. Subsequent albums turn out more polished singles, like the double A-side “My Zero/Caroline Jones,” songs that manage to channel the early 1960s vibe by working in whistling and sax solos. And I’m only featuring the stuff I like. Furman has a load of material that would fall into a more straight up alienated punk groove (for people who like that sort of thing).
Take Off Your Sunglasses
This year’s Perpetual Motion People brings all these disparate influences together into a surprisingly coherent and solid package. Again, the range is impressive: from the folksy spiritual quality of “One Day I will Sin No More” to the weirdly melodic and unpredictable “Can I Sleep in Your Brain.” 1950s sax and doo-wop stylings return on “Pot Holes,” a hilarious political commentary on phony civic boosterism with lightening word play and a fade out ‘waa-ooh’ vocal that would make Del Shannon proud. “Ordinary Life” sounds like a great lost John Lennon song. And the video single for “Restless Year,” while not my favourite song on the record, does capture the frenetic, unpredictable energy that is Ezra Furman.
Furman is booked for a show in Toronto October 10th at the Silver Dollar – this promises to be an ‘I was there when …’ event, not to be missed!
Ezra Furman website