There are few musicians who are truly unique. As soon as success arrives, uniqueness tends to fly right out of the window.
So who are these artists, the peak of the unique if you will? Scott Walker perhaps, Chet Baker almost definitely, Kate Bush, Sinead O’Connor (who will make an appearance in a few days time), Serge Gainsbourg and of course the Daddy of unique musicians, Jonathan Richman.
Jonathan has been singing and recording songs of childlike simplicity and refreshing openness for over four decades, and our experiment subject today is his album from 1995, ‘You must ask the heart’.
It’s resolutely lo-fi and low-key, even by Jonathan’s unusually stripped-down standards. Tales of baseball players (‘Walter Johnson’), racial stereotyping (the just-the-right-side-of-painful, ‘Just because I’m Irish’) and a little bit of Spanish (‘Amorcito Corazon’) rub shoulders with a number of unusual covers (Tom Waits’ ‘The heart of Saturday night’, Sam Cooke’s ‘Nothing can change this love’ and Amanda McBroom’s (or Bette Midler’s if you prefer) karaoke favourite ‘The Rose’ which sounds like it was rattled off in one take just before leaving the studio one day).
Put this all together with liberal use of the word ‘vagabond’ and the touching ‘Let her go into the darkness’ and you’re left with an album that by anyone else’s standards would be stunning, but by Jonathan’s standards might not even make his top ten.
Watch out for more by Jonathan in the weeks to come.
Label – Rounder
Year - 1995