Joe Moe

(Puluphonic Records)

Reading one of those lists that so kindly tell me about what's new in the field of "quality & independent" releases, I happened to notice an album (title: Mainland) by one Joe Moe (a name that when seen on the cover of an album by Frank Zappa I'd thought of as being a joke). The brief presentation talked about a fine album of songs, mentioned Van Dyke Parks (appearing on two tracks), and the production and arranging work by Brian Woodbury (a musician I like) appearing together with Marc Doten and Michael Webster under the bizarre moniker Cheez Masheen. So I thought - OK, I'll bite.

Meanwhile, I finally remembered where I'd already listened to Joe Moe: on an album by Brian Woodbury, the fine The Brian Woodbury Songbook. Here Joe Moe sings (quite well, his voice in a way reminding me of Ike Willis's, but without the "eyebrows") a nice track titled My Africa. According to that album's liner notes, "Third generation Hawaiian entertainer Joe Moe is a screenwriter, songwriter and designer of haunted houses. He publishes It's Alive, a quarterly monster magazine".

Mainland's credits immediately tell of a work of a composite nature: side-by-side with a few more recent songs, some of which Joe Moe co-wrote, we have some covers of older tracks; some originals I own (Aria by Woodbury, Car On The Hill by Joni Mitchell, Cowboy by Parks), some I remember (The Married Men by The Roches), some I think I remember (Talkin' In Your Sleep - was it Crystal Gayle?). Having a look at the list of the players I notice a few names I already know (not surprisingly, they're all Woodbury collaborators). I also notice the instrumentation is quite varied. The album has a nice sound that's not fatiguing, nor hyper-compressed, with a clean background (both vocals and instruments), and main voices which appear to benefit from some good mikes. The whole is quite varied, which could maybe be a problem for those who like to sit inside a very homogeneous framework.

Comparing the covers with the originals I know told me of an intention to treat those songs as compositions: Aria (The Birds Don't Owe), Car On The Hill, and Cowboy (respectively, off All White People Look Alike by Woodbury, Court And Spark by Mitchell, and Tokyo Rose by Parks) could easily be superimposed upon the originals (Car On The Hill even duplicates the cymbals' accents off John Guerin's drum part; as elsewhere on the album, nice work by Joe Berardi). While when it came to some of the other tracks, I had to use some guesswork.

Plus and minus are equally distributed on the album's two "sides". Aria (The Birds Don't Owe) gives us back the solemn atmosphere of Woodbury's composition, has a fine vocal performance by Joe Moe. Car On The Hill works, also thanks to two guest female vocalists (who perform equally well on other tracks on this album). The Green Shade by Elma Mayer brings us back to that mood of "operatic cartoon". Written by Michael Webster, Lotus Festival has a joyous tone. This version of Cowboy doesn't make one long for the original. Almost a bilingual doo-wop, Dark And Wrinkled (second lead vocals by Dylan Hostetter, music by Webster, lyrics by Arthur Rimbaud) left me decidedly cold.

The Married Man by Margaret A. Roche is a fine calypso with an agile accordion by guest Van Dyke Parks. Ravine is a suggestive ballad well served by the voice of Joe Moe, who co-wrote it with Marc Doten. Written by Roger Cooke and Bobby Wood, Talkin' In Your Sleep, with Rob Shapiro on backing vocals, brings us back to those days of the "classic US FM radio listened to in the car in the late 70s", and as such, it works. Mosque Of Bones, by Webster, Moe, and Doten, is really out of place here: halfway between a power ballad and "melodic metal" (does it really exist?), with Nivek Ogre on second lead vocals, and drums that speed up (is it a click-track here, working as a guide?); in so differently from Dark And Wrinkled, I think this track works, but why is it here remains a mystery. Ku'u Home O Kahalu'u by Jerry Santos (never heard of him, I'm afraid) has fine acoustic guitars, it's a nice track. Written by Doten and Moe, featuring only voice and piano, the brief An Earth Song has an interesting melodic development and a fine vocal performance; it's a good close for an album that's maybe a bit too varied for its own good, but one that's definitely worth investigating.

Beppe Colli

Beppe Colli 2009 | May 10, 2009