Marshall Crenshaw - vocals, guitar; Greg Cohen - bass; Charlie Giordano - accordion
As a true believer in rock 'n' roll's power to transcend and transform, Marshall Crenshaw has maintained a stubborn fidelity to his creative muse, merging craftsmanship and passion to build an impressive and enduring body of work. Now, at the 25th anniversary of his landmark 1982 debut album, the Detroit-bred singer/songwriter/guitarist continues to craft classic pop tunes that blend the innocence of rock 'n' roll's early years, the melodic sophistication of classic Brill Building pop, and an emotional complexity that's rooted in a deep insight into the joy and pain of human experience. These days, Crenshaw is creating some of the strongest work of his career, still seemingly incapable of writing a song that doesn't feature a killer hook and/or uncover some grain of universal truth - and still delivering those compositions with a refreshing absence of trickery or artifice.
In 2000, Crenshaw, whose live shows have long been high-spirited celebrations of straight ahead electric rock 'n' roll, began alternating his rock gigs with acoustic performances - usually solo but sometimes with a small combo. The stripped-down format was something of a revelation, allowing the artist to explore his songs in completely untapped ways - to deliver "Someday, Someway," for example, as either a bluegrassy rave-up or a bracing solo singalong. Stripped to their essentials, the songs confirm the compositional and emotional depth that, along with his trademark buoyant hooks and surging melodies, has always been a constant in Crenshaw's work. The material is complemented by the intimate living-room vibe, with the spacious arrangements allowing the listener to appreciate the artist's subtly superlative guitar work and the understated emotional commitment of his singing. "It's really challenging," Crenshaw has said of the unplugged approach. "You have to get up there and really be there. No coasting. You can't let your mind wander for one second. And it just got me thinking about the songs in a whole different light."
This set, drawn from his February 16, 2001 show at Asbury Park, New Jersey's fabled Stone Pony, finds Crenshaw at the top of his game, obviously invigorated by the intimate setting and jazzed by the opportunity to bring new perspective to his song catalog. Accompanied by Greg Cohen on standup bass and Charlie Giordano on accordion, Crenshaw revisits signature tunes ("There She Goes Again," "Whenever You're On My Mind," "You're My Favorite Waste of Time"), some lesser known but no less memorable gems ("Little Wild One," "Better Back Off," "What Do You Dream Of?"), as well as some more recent tunes ("Television Light," "Dime A Dozen Guy," "T.M.D" and "Tell Me All About It," all from his 1999 album 447) that fully live up to the standards set by his early work.
Elsewhere on the album, Crenshaw, who's always had an uncanny ear for outside material, tackles a pair of vintage covers, namely Jody Reynolds' brooding '50s death-rock anthem "Endless Sleep" and the Left Banke's fragile baroque-pop classic "Walk Away Renee," mining both for their emotional content rather than their nostalgic value.
These songs offer further documentation - as if any was needed - of Marshall Crenshaw's singular artistry. In this philistine age, we need him more now than ever.