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Salim Nourallah - Hit Parade

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Artist: Salim Nourallah

Album: Hit Parade

Label: Tapete

Review date: Apr. 27, 2012

Salim Nourallah has never had a hit, much less a parade of them, but that’s not his fault. His sharp, prickly, invigorating songs come decades too late for mass popularity, or even the edgier, more modest acclaim of, say, Nick Lowe. Hit Parade, then, is titled tongue-in-cheek, a reminder that Nourallah’s well-crafted, tightly-played material is pop but not necessarily popular.

Nourallah has been making clever, catchy tunes since the late 1990s, first with his brother Faris, later with The Happiness Factor and, since 2004, as a solo artist. Along the way, he has connected with a sort of Dallas-centered urbane pop underground, producing albums for Old 97s and Rhett Miller, and collaborating in various ways with John Dufilho of The Death Ray Davies. (He sings on Dufilho’s John Singer Sargeant project.)

Nourallah wrote more than 40 songs for this record, according to one account, jotting down ideas on napkins, phoning up answering machines from his car to record hooks. There are, not surprisingly, a lot of different subjects in play. But if there’s a theme here, it’s of bewildered adulthood, a guy confronting new kids and missing friends, long broken-in relationships and credit card bills -- and wondering how he got here. “Travolta,” which is maybe a wedding song, maybe not, sets the tone when it observes: “The only thing gone wrong is you’re frozen stiff, by the realization that you don’t know what you’re doing.”

Yet they’re good songs, tough-minded but emotionally available, lancing the most sentimental subjects – love, marriage, children – like boils, so that the sticky stuff drains out. Even in “Unstoppable,” writing about a 5-year-old daughter that he clearly adores, Nourallah sidesteps Hallmark sentiments with specific detail and a self-deprecating grasp of life’s transience (“Who you gonna be, who you gonna be, when you’re all grown up, who you gonna be, who you gonna be, when you’re over us?”). Nourallah may wear his heart on his sleeve, but he is well aware that that sleeve -- hell, the entire arm -- is probably ridiculous. If the songs are sad, they’re also funny. If they’re funny, they are also kind of heartbreaking.

Add to this a really fine ear for melody and rambunctious, high energy accompaniments. A lot of care has been taken to make the songs sound different from each other and true to themselves. For instance, “Travolta” gives a wise-cracking nod to The Bee Gees with a disco bass. “Unstoppable” flirts with ELO-ish pop in its fluttering, “doo-doo-doos” and “ah-ahs.” “Goddamn Life” reminded me so much of Brendan Benson circa Lapalco that I had to pull the disc out and listen to again (which was a total pleasure, as is “Goddamn Life”).

And maybe that’s the bottom line, that Hit Parade is such a pleasure, well made and artfully played, deeply felt but never mushy. It bears all the best hallmarks of maturity – the effortless access to one’s gifts that only comes with practice, the humorous humility that sets in at midlife – but keeps things fresh and mobile. These might not be hits in the commercial sense, but they do hit the target.

By Jennifer Kelly

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