Review: A Jonathan Richman Classic Revisited


Jonathan Richman – Because Her Beauty Is Raw and Wild



June 1, 2008


When a friend learned Jonathan Richman does Leonard Cohen’s
“Here It Is” on his new Because Her Beauty Is Raw and Wild, he said that was perfect – the man who never grows up covers the man who never was young. And there is something about Richman’s goofy wide-eyed innocence – and the openhearted earnestness of his singing – that makes him eternally childlike. But that doesn’t mean his subject matter is juvenile. Or that at age 57 he isn’t a perceptive man of sensitivity and

Proving that point is his album’s extraordinary closing
song, so sad and wise. “As My Mother Lay Lying” is a gentle ballad about
spending time with his dying mother. There’s not a touch of maudlin
sentimentality or false witness to it, just honest observations uncorrupted by
clichés or adult self-consciousness. It’s hard to take; yet it’s also – in its
humanistic profession of love – sweet. I can’t think of another songwriter who
could face this subject so frankly, yet remain so optimistic about life.
Elsewhere, while there is some filler and the overall sound is familiar to
Richman’s fans – nylon-stringed acoustic guitar accompanied by Tommy Larkin’s
drums – the songwriting is deeper than usual. Richman seems preoccupied with
confronting darkness and life’s disappointments without giving in. “Our Party
Will Be on the Beach Tonight” flirts with a muted but scarily discordant
arrangement and “Our Drab Ways” and “Time Has Been Going By So Fast” are
Richman’s way of pleading for us to stop to appreciate pleasure.


Richman thinks so much of “When We Refuse to Suffer” that he has recorded two versions – acoustic and a rare electric take. It’s his philosophy of living with eyes (and heart) wide open, and it rocks. But I have to quarrel with a point he makes: People don’t
necessarily take anti-depressants because they “refuse to suffer.” Sometimes
they do it because they suffer too much.

By the way, his take on “Here It Is” is straightforward but melancholy, featuring his musical simplicity applied to Cohen’s lyrical complexity. And it works – it becomes a slightly unusual folk singer’s Kaddish-like tribute to family. Jonathan Richman is growing up, indeed, in a way that could serve as a role model for his generation.\Standout

Tracks: “Our Drab Ways,”
“As My Mother Lay Lying”

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