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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Jim Abel: "Thunder"

Occasionally I'll be driving down the street when I see an old couple walking together.  My response is always the same - an unrepentant "awwww."  That's essentially the same reaction I had when Jim Abel's Thunder arrived on my doorstep, complete with a picture of the artist, himself.  Now in his 60s, Jim Abel is living his dream, writing, recording, and playing his unique style of music in front of live audiences all around the Kansas City area.  This, his fourth album, is dripping with proof that this man truly loves what he does, and I respect that.  Unfortunately, respect can't really get me to like music that I would otherwise dislike, and Thunder has more or less proven this to me.

There are really just a multitude of problems with Thunder that make it a truly difficult listen for me.  The thing that immediately struck me about Abel's music is that the recordings are not of the highest quality.  His vocals, in particular, always seem to be brought far to the front of the mix, spotlighting any flaw - big or small - that may be present.  Many times it seems to completely overpower the instrumentation on the songs, which can be quite good at times.  On the album-opener, "Jenny O'Farrell," for example, the layers and layers of instruments really make the song worth remembering.  It's an upbeat, lighthearted song that is definitely nothing I would listen to regularly, though I found it to be completely charming.

Unfortunately, most of the songs on Thunder aren't nearly as exciting as this one.  I'm not a stickler for upbeat, happy music either.  It's just that when Abel lowers the pace of his songs, they all start to sound the same to me.  There are a few that stand out, like the beautiful and poignant "The Mystery of Life" or the equally impressive "We Won't Mention It Again" where the following line really stood out to me:

Come, dear Clare, friend beyond compare, let us wander as we dare, 

till our footsteps rhyme for the only time, 

and we won't mention it again. 

An hour or two, till the ev'ning dew and the healing fog comes in. 

Our hands might touch, but not too much, 

and we won't mention it again. 

And that's one good thing about Jim Abel:  no matter what you think about his music, you simply can't deny the man's talent as a storyteller.  His songs are vivid in their imagery, which makes the poignant songs more touching and the humorous ones ("Never Give Advice" or "Swappin'") funnier.  That doesn't necessarily make up for his vocal imperfections or his sometimes dragging compositions, but it doesn't really hurt either.

What Thunder has that many albums these days don't is "passion."  As I stated before, one listen to the album will make it abundantly clear that Jim Abel really does have a passion for songwriting.  Unfortunately, I jut can't find the passion to appreciate it in the way that many people may be able to.  Personally, I think that Jim Abel would be quite enjoyable in a live setting.  But in the privacy of my own home, vehicle, or wherever I have a choice of what I listen to, I'll probably just go ahead and choose something else.

Key Tracks:
1. "Jenny O'Farrell"
2. "The Mystery of Life"
3. "We Won't Mention It Again"
4. "Swappin'"

4 out of 10 Stars

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