An album of mixed quality.
Lou Thomas 2009
Anti-folk icon Jeffrey Lewis is a venerable figure in his native New York for both his wry comic book art and his observation-based thrift store music. Although his success has been somewhat overshadowed by fellow Big Apple folkers Moldy Peaches, our man Lewis knows how to construct a cheap, loveably scuffed tune and has impeccable punk credentials. His last project was an album of Crass covers.
Slogans starts Em I Are in great fashion with growling Lewis yelling out a tale of ''cigarettes and needles'' strewn about the streets before reaching a simple, unexpected one line chorus: ''Everyone you meet is not better than you''. It's catchy and pollution-scarred and recalls Jonathan Richman, another iconoclastic NYC native.
Roll Bus Roll is a bit more stereotypically city folk. Here Lewis sounds rather effete, even if he is singing about old bodegas and Harlem. It's pleasant, but hardly essential.
If Life Exists is worse, full of simplistic, platitudinous conversational drivel. After singing about being ill, JL sings, ''When I get healthy I wouldn't take it for granted."
For all the twee acoustica, there are still impressive surprises lurking. Album standout The Upside-down Cross is written by Lewis's brother and bandmate Jack. It's a fantastic eight minutes of mariachi trumpet, feedback and electric fury. Imagine Nick Cave and Calexico covering Neil Young's Hey Hey, My My with nothing but guns, cacti and tequila for company.
Bugs & Flowers meanwhile, has a sweetly Californian pastoral tone, Good Old Pig, Gone To Avalon is a jumpy banjo-flecked ditty that ends with a marvellously incongruous guitar solo and It's Not Impossible is a quiet, uplifting dusty moment of pedal-steel bliss.
An album of mixed quality, then, and one which may lead many to conclude Lewis is a more accomplished talent when he leaps away from the musical and lyrical conventions of his background.