You won’t hear a bad word from me regarding Joe Pernice. His talents are obvious and consistent, but you may hear a few grumblings from me about Pernice Brothers’ sixth album, Live A Little. So before I get to the bitchin’ and moanin’, let’s preface by saying that most of my complaints are merely the result of this album not being as heartbreakingly awesome as Discover A Lovelier You, The World Won’t End, or their debut, Overcome By Happiness.
On paper, it looked promising. Joe and the band re-teaming with Happiness producer Michael Deming could only mean either 1) another cinematic sweep of chamber-pop mastery or 2) a revision of Joe’s initial country-tinged work with Scud Mountain Boys. I wasn’t expecting 3) the first Pernice Brothers record that didn’t have me lobbying to put Joe’s name in the same arena as Brian Wilson.
As expected, the string accompaniment has returned, but they’re subtle to the point where the guitars are actually more defined in the tracks than in previous albums. As expected, Joe continues to reach literary heights with lyrics like “Who isn’t worse or better than they seem / the chased and slutty and the in-between” (“How Can I Compare”) flowing out of his hands with enviable ease.
At the same time, the album’s highpoint is actually a Scud Mountain Boys remake (“Grudge F*** 2006”) and that’s a big problem for me. Up until now, there’s always been at least a handful of “you gotta hear that new Joe Pernice song” moments, and with Live A Little it’s been reduced to a retread. And unfortunately, the performances aren’t ear-grabbing enough for me to declare “you gotta hear that new Pernice Brothers song.” Combine that with the common knowledge that more people need to be familiar with any Pernice Brothers album and you’ll get a good understanding of my ambivalence. At the end of the day, Joe Pernice’s talents deserve more than what he’s demonstrating here. Live a little more next time, brother, and maybe I can give a little more than this.