1998 DALLAS OBSERVER
LITTLE JACK MELODY & HIS YOUNG TURKS
Nominated for: Avant-Garde/Experimental, Jazz
Little Jack Melody epitomizes an unfortunate pop music rule: If you don’t fit neatly into a specific category, you can kiss the big time goodbye. Jack’s music? Cabaret, oom-pah, Latin, Tin Pan Alley, jazz, fairy-tale, creepy, sensual, sad. How the hell can a narrow-minded rock fan process all that stimulation? Takes a smart listener to appreciate a truly smart musician.
Little Jack has the gift, all right. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better singer-songwriter in these parts, but his loyal following remains a cultish one. For more than eight years, the Denton-based Little Jack and his revolving-door band, the Young Turks- musicians accomplished on instruments as varied as flute and accordion and tuba and even harmonium- have been recording and performing with an unflinching stoicism that belies Jack’s resignation to being the town eccentric. In between, Jack writes scores for theater and such (you know, the kind of stuff that requires sheet music and theory). And during live shows, Jack comes off like a sober Tom Waits spliced with a smiling Glenn Miller- charismatic, cool, and utterly in control. You wanna shake the hand of the man behind the amazing music, but you don’t want to invade his space.
The band’s recordings present all the angles with intuitive precision; the latest, my charmed life (on Carpe Diem), may be the most complex and charming. From the wrenchingly melancholic "Barbie and Ken" (they fell in love at the dance) to the samba tinged "Mr. Horizon" to the joyously frenetic "Kilroy was here," the album proves that Jack has no intention of boring himself with convention. But as he smilingly implies on the moody "Close, no cigar," he knows he’s destined to a graceful, noble obscurity: "I coulda been a contender, I coulda been on TV/I coulda been big as Johnnie Ray, I coulda been such a star/Now I’m crying another blues/Close, no cigar." Pity.
– Christina Rees
January 8-14, 1998
The Best Local Albums of 1997
My Charmed Life, Little Jack Melody and his
Young Turks (Carpe Diem Records). Subtle and smart, this cabaret-style view of modernlife—and human delusion—again shows what makes Denton’s Little Jack Melody such an overlooked treasure. His intelligence and elegance don’t interfere with his sense of humor.
THE GREAT PRETENDER
My Charmed Life
Little Jack Melody and his Young Turks
Carpe Diem Records
Denton’s Little Jack Melody has always been among the most ambitious of the abundant crop of eclecticists that our area has been blessed with. More directed than Paul Slavens, more textual than Brave Combo, and more native than Café Noir, Melody uses the cool pulses of nuevo lounge, the sophisticated purr of jazz, and the worldly burble of Hot Club virtuosity to create a musical accompaniment to his lyric essays, word-pictures that span both time and geography.
Yet Melody never seems to get his due, perhaps because of an underlying current of melancholy, resignation, and regret that runs through his work. No matter what other emotions are examined—satisfaction, hope, completion—there is always more than an echo of a wan smile, like that of someone gamely trying to be cool while in the painful company of an ex-lover.
Take it from the top of My Charmed Life: The deluded narrator of the title track, who believes his deserved share is always 100 percent, isn’t that different from the singer of the next song, "Close, No Cigar" ("I coulda been a contender")—except one realizes that life’s all past him already, and the other doesn’t. Melody’s neo-cabaret sound definitely references Continental styles, but in a uniquely American way like Tom Waits in a tuxedo. When Marianne Faithfull sings the Brecht-Weill standard "Alabama Song", it’s as if she’s plucked it whole from The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny; Melody’s version fits in perfectly with his reaction to American culture. When, in the chorus, he and the Young Turks bellow "we must have whiskey or we’ll DIE!" it’s as if the line comes from a silverback gorilla in a $3,000 suit with a cel phone—rapacious modern man.
It’s the ascent of this great ape that bums Melody out so much—the turning of the Beat Generation ("Gone in October" is a eulogy for Jack Kerouac) into the Blank generation. We think we have it made, Melody says, but we’re really losing everything. In "Samba Ordinaire", an upbeat Brazilian beat masks the creeping loss stalking the man in the grey flannel suit: "a shower chases dreams away...what’s your name?", concluding with "How does that old saying go? It’s the devil that I know." The disc-ending "Mr. Horizon" is a tropical, Arthur Lyman-esque fantasia drained of its escapist relief—"Mr. Horizon is having a very bad day", mocked by the fading la-la-la chorus of children. Don’t write Melody off as a gloomy Gus, though, for in his uniquely sophisticated, feeling songs there’s a perception so sharp as to be redemptive, recognizing the courage behind managing that wan smile when all you really want to do is burst into tears.
– Matt Weitz