Marshall Crenshaw- #447 reissue review

Marshall Crenshaw #447 Shiny-Tone/Megaforce Records

Power Pop doesn’t get a great deal of attention within the roots world, and I suppose that makes sense. But when Marshall Crenshaw begins revisiting his mid-career albums, Fervor Coulee is going to pay a bit of attention.

Crenshaw has been a favourite before I even heard him. I read an article about him around the time his debut album was released, and whatever was said in that piece made me pay attention and figure that this bespectacled guy was someone I needed to hear.

High school budget being what it was, and radio choices similarly skint, it was a few years before I actually heard “Cynical Girl,” “Someday, Someway,” and “Mary Anne;” once I did, I was sold and started collecting his music whenever the chance came around. While some albums strike better than others, Marshall Crenshaw has never disappointed.

#447 is an odd little album, but for me, and in retrospect, it is one of his finest. There aren’t many albums outside bluegrass and jazz that would include three instrumentals, but we have those here including the delightful “West of Bald Knob.” Given the structure of the album, one with a focus on guitar patterns and, I suppose, textures, it truly does feel a little less rock and a little more roots, that beautiful late-90s place where all our influences were allowed to come together as “Americana” as an identifiable genre of sorts started to take shape.

Within this reissue, I don’t ‘hear’ a lot of difference from the original, well-recorded and presented Razor & Tie album; I am reviewing from a stream, so some of the subtleties of the mix may be missing my ears. The album’s strongest song, “T. M. D.” (Truly, Madly, Deeply) is moved up a few spots in the running order, and that decision seems astute. The guitars, of Crenshaw and guests including Billy Lloyd, Pat Buchanan, Andy York, and Greg Leisz on lap steel and Dobro, are prominent and allow #447 its guitar-centric focus. It was a real good album in 1999, and it sounds even better twenty-some years on, when revisited with more mature ears. I don’t think I gave it the attention it deserved when first purchased, so I welcome the opportunity to go back and give it another chance.

Two new recordings are included, and it is these numbers that warrant greatest attention from a roots music writer.

“Will of the Wind” was written early in the pandemic, and without pointedly addressing COVID-19 captures the emotions associated with isolation and longing, and especially the uncertainty we’ve all been feeling; of course, as a master songwriter and performer, Crenshaw takes it to a level most of us can only dream about. Crenshaw, who has apparently suffered from writer’s block in the past, states that this is the first song he had written in some four years. A success this one is, and I recommend downloading it even if you don’t wish to reinvest in an album already on your shelf.

The second track is a Gregg Turner song, “Sante Fe,” and its performance is even more impressive. Buoyed by Mike Neer’s steel guitar, “Sante Fe” is a welcome addition to this set, the steel providing the open, barren-landscape sounds that a ‘brokenhearted, leavin’ town and burnin’ down the world’ song requires. Vocally Crenshaw is as strong as ever on these new recordings, and one can only hope he someday soon sees fit to follow-up 2009’s Jaggedland.

I missed the previous reissue of Miracle of Science (with its glorious and welcome addition reinvention of Pagliaro’s “What the Hell I Got”) and I understand additional titles are to be revisited in this series. I’ll be paying closer attention going forward.

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