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Pernice Brothers - Goodbye, Killer

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Artist: Pernice Brothers

Album: Goodbye, Killer

Label: Ashmont

Review date: Jun. 15, 2010


Pernice Brothers - "Jacqueline Susann" (Goodbye, Killer)


With the exception of his self-consciously alt-country records under the Scud Mountain Boys moniker (and to a lesser extent, the album Big Tobacco, recorded under his own name), little of Joe Pernice’s oeuvre begs for the label “roots” music. The “chamber pop” tag is usually as (or more) appropriate. Pernice’s highly literate reflections on love and life — which have birthed multiple works of fiction apart from his music — come from a pristine voice delivering tastefully arranged minor masterworks of pop composition.

Yet Pernice has always had a strong and compelling blue-collar streak—he offers up beauty but humbly, as low-key reflection on the everyday — and this has reasserted itself strongly of late, on both the Pernice Brothers’ last record Live a Little and their latest, Goodbye, Killer. Except perhaps on its magnificent, hymn-like closer “The End of Faith” — which reaches achingly gorgeous heights — Goodbye, Killer exudes a pleasantly romanticized sense of down-to-earth living. If it isn’t as conspicuously pretty as some of the Pernice Brothers’ loftier material, it still has melodies in spades, and it may be Pernice’s tightest, most road-ready collection to date.

Take the impeccable craft of Pernice’s songwriting as a given (by now it’s hard not to) and Goodbye, Killer resounds as a study in arrangement — a paean to pop wrapped in the no-frills guitar of emphatic acoustic strums and ringing electric twangs. A compelling mixture of pop and alt-country, this veneer suggests Tom Petty without the anthemic hubris or Buck Owens without the hokier honky-tonk.

If musically Goodbye, Killer also calls to mind the open lanes of long distance driving, it has fitting lyrical counterpoints: charming odes to living on the road, saying goodbyes and finding a kind of serenity in resignation. With its charming trot and wry lyric, “We Love the Stage” takes on the traveling life directly: “I nearly drowned on my motel room floor, but even so we made sound check by four … We even like those smart ass kids who shout out ‘Free Bird’ in my face … Love is love and we love the stage.” Set to Don Rich-style electric twang slowed to a ballad’s pace, “Newport News” is a more heart-rending tour of emotional geography: “Sadly I woke up in Connecticut / Some nightingale’s art deco Murphy bed … Your brother is a friend I’ll hate to lose / He said you’re somewhere down in Newport News … I caught a dragon bus to Chinatown … Stood where Prince meets Lafayette … Tell me why my love was easy to leave.”

Still, it’s the parting words and acceptances that resound most emphatically. “The Loving Kind” is the acceptance: “I’ll stay with you, but that’s as much as I can do / Please don’t think I’m cruel / I’ve been through this too many times to bullshit you … I’m not the loving kind.” “Goodbye, Killer” and “The End of Faith” are the letting go. On the former, Pernice reminisces about what sounds like idle or mildly self-destructive youth: “I was you / You were me / Dirt bags soaring high above a reefer sea / Life flowed pretty from where we stood / But you were shooting for the gutter and your aim was very good … Goodbye, Killer / Goodbye Joe / I hope you know I always loved you but I had to let you go.”

Build around a majestically picked pattern with recurrent hammer-ons, album closer “The End of Faith” finds Pernice wanting to rid himself of “quaking doubt and existential angst.” But the music is so serene — truly divine — that it comes across as a testament to accepting, and finding beauty in, uncertainty. Playing upon the multiple meanings of “end” — alternatively the terminus reached or the goal ever strived-for — this deceptively simple song is rife with sophisticated theological suggestion. It hints at a truism of faith as profound as it is overlooked: ultimately, it’s a form of overcoming through the embrace — not the rejection — of doubt. It’s a shockingly mature sentiment for a pop record, to be sure, but just more of what we’ve come to expect from Pernice.

By Benjamin Ewing

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