JONATHAN RICHMAN Not So Much To Be Loved As To Love (Sanctuary/Vapor)

 Sounding like David Byrne curating a nursery rhyme expo, unlikely punk godfather Richman is all gawky naivety and awkwardness here, immediately disarming and charming. “Not So Much To Be Loved As To Love” is crammed with subtle, persuasive near-melodies, sparse, primitive instrumentation and unambiguous lyrics, combining in an album that sounds as fabulously out of place in 2004 as it would have done at any time during the last five decades.

“Vincent Van Gogh” and “Salvador Dali” extend a thematic thread Richman began in 1972 with “Pablo Picasso” (a song that has since rightly attained eternity through covers by John Cale and David Bowie), “He Gave Us The Wine To Taste” considers the grape with glorious abandon and the ghost of early rock ‘n’ roll hovers approvingly over the ramshackle yet totally together “My Baby Love Love Loves Me”. “The World Is Showing It’s Hand” offers childhood olfactory reminiscences of diesel fumes, grease and piss (“Let me smell more of the world that I might learn something”) in a flattened yowl reminiscent of Nikki Sudden’s delivery on his glorious cover of Neil Young’s “Captain Kennedy”. More astonishing still is “Abu Jamal”, in which a creaky harmonium wheezes in support of the award-winning journalist who has been on death row in Philadelphia since 1982.

There may not be a safety pin in sight, but Richman means it, man, and is as punk rock in spirit as he’s ever been. “Not So Much To Be Loved As To Love” is a simple, direct album that’s also about as joyous and playful as modern music gets.

The Modern Lovers