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JAY BENNETT The Magnificent Defeat
Rykodisc RCD10880(2006)

Jay Bennett

For those of us not in the know, Jay Bennett was an integral creative force in alt. Country rockers Wilco who have been referred to in some quarters as 'the most famous band, you may never have heard of'. Bennett is a creative loose creative cannon who once outside of the commercial concerns of Wilco has gone into a song writing overdrive.

As his accompanying notes to the album explain, he wrote in the region of 70 songs on the back of some of life's more challenging experiences. Yet having whittled down the songs to a more manageable 13, you could be excused for wondering how he still managed to come up with such a messy yet compelling melange of warped country tinged roots rock.

I'm not entirely sure what the title of the album relates to, and given it is some 4 years since he left Wilco, perhaps the title is a commentary on the near misses of some of these songs which are a mix of rough diamonds played with tons of passion, albeit some of it misdirected

Utilising an array of instruments ranging from the homemade variety through to a batch of Hammonds and battered junk shop purchases, multi instrumentalist Jay has dived headlong into his studio and come up with a mix of the good, the bad, the ugly the downright derivative, best described as a flawed master piece.

He sets out his stall on opening 'Slow Beautifully Seconds Faster' with a mix of fazed voices, backward sounding tapes and fractured melody lines, and follows that with the Elvis Costello/Sean Tyla sounding acoustic stomp of '5th Grade'. Sometimes the mishmash of cluttered production works well as on real gem of a relationship track, 'Replace Me'. The song utilises a glorious psychedelic bridge as part of a more straight ahead rock and roll feel and you can't help but wonder how the angst of the Punk inflected late 70's ever found itself melded to such eclectic alt. country/roots music such as this.

This is the kind of album that will take many more plays to reveal all the nuances. And yet in spite of all the layers of instrumentation and occasional beautifully conceived production techniques - listen to the haunting swirling keyboard parts - it is the simpler efforts such as the lovely and Beatles tinged ballad 'The Palace at 4am' and the countryish 'Thank You' that work best; Similarly the stripped down 'Survey The Damage' is another example of Jay's real art; and one of the stand out tracks on the album. The gentle melody line and harmony vocals are reminiscent of The Connells, and are brilliantly punctuated by a glorious mid number Neil Young style warped/distorted guitar break.

By contract the chaotic, double tracked vocals of 'Butterfly' represents the other side of Jay's oeuvre, being a coarse, chaotic, piece that sounds like a late night outtake.

But Jay is nothing if not surprising and slips into the 60's folk pop shoes of 'I'm Feeling Fine' which suggests he can pen a commercial ditty at the drop of a hat. By the time of the penultimate 'Good as Gold' (there is an extra unlisted track); Jay eschews the plethora of instruments for a simple acoustic guitar and a beautiful song.

For the most part, 'The Magnificent Defeat' is a left field eclectic album and perhaps Rykodisc is the perfect label for Jay's feverish musical imagination and inventive production techniques. But somewhere amidst all the glorious musical anarchy is a singer song writer of real substance. File under near miss.


Review by Pete Feenstra

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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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