March 2008

Joe Jackson - Rain
Rykodisc RCD 10921
Format: CD
Released: 2008

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

Joe Jackson has spent nearly 30 years refusing to be pigeonholed -- he’s proudly eclectic. Even when he reformed his original band from the '70s for Volume 4 (2003), his songwriting showed the sophistication he’d developed over the years from such wide-ranging projects as Night and Day (1982), Night Music (1994), and Heaven & Hell (1997). Two members of the Joe Jackson Band, Graham Maby on bass and Dave Houghton on drums, join Jackson on Rain, which the trio recorded in Berlin. The ten songs on the disc demonstrate Jackson’s considerable piano skills and his confident command of pop-music styles.

Jackson has often paid tribute in his songwriting to musicians he admires, and on Rain he shows his affection for Todd Rundgren on "Wasted Time" and Ramsey Lewis on "The Uptown Train" (he channeled Lewis previously on "Down to London" from Blaze of Glory). Rain contains deeply affecting ballads ("Wasted Time," "Solo (So Low)"), barrelhouse rockers ("Citizen Sane") and driving punk reminiscent of Jackson’s first three LPs ("King Pleasure Time"). For all its variety, Rain never seems scattershot -- its focus remains sharp. The arrangements are spare, with only piano, bass and drums, but these three musicians fill things up smartly without ever seeming to overplay. Maby is a subtle, melodic bass player, and Houghton is a dynamic and energetic drummer.

Jackson’s music is usually extremely well recorded, and in that regard the CD of Rain is something of a disappointment. On some tracks, the instruments are pushed forward in the soundstage and the mix feels closed in. The limited-edition LP lets some air in between the instruments, and you can hear the bass attack more clearly. It’s my preferred format for this recording. But whether on LP or CD, I’ve been listening to and liking Rain a lot.