Marshall Crenshaw – #392: The EP Collection (ALBUM REVIEW)


crenshawalbumWith #392: The EP Collection, Marshall Crenshaw proves he’s as pragmatic as he is self-effacing. The man who brought us an album entitled I’ve Suffered for My Art, Now It’s your Turn has collected on a single CD all the tracks released on vinyl EP’s between 2013 and 2015, plus two previously-unreleased bonus cuts to fully hedge his bets between configurations.

Marshall Crenshaw’s pedigree prior to his eponymous Sire Records debut—the role of John Lennon in Broadway’s ‘Beatlemania’—permeated his early recordings, an impression he wasted no time trying to dispel via rootsy expeditions on subsequent albums like Mary Jean and 9 Others. That he reaffirms such efforts at authenticity with this work isn’t to say chiming guitars and heavily echoed vocal harmonies don’t appear here, in fact, “Grab the Next Train” and “Move On” are comprised of little else except for hard-kicking drums and percussion accents.

In fact, it’s impossible to overstate the prominence of the guitar in Marshall Crenshaw’s oeuvre, particularly when the CD cover photos are comprised of shots where he’s holding various styles of the instrument. Yet his knowledge of, as well as his debt to, the overall sound of Sun Records comes to the fore in “Driving and Dreaming.” And if that cut doesn’t have the soaring quality of “Whenever You’re On My Mind,” (from his often-overlooked sophomore title Field Day), the mix of acoustic and electric fretboard work that fills “Stranger and Stranger,” combined with drums that pop and jump in the background, achieve more than a little lift, particularly when the author cranks up immediately before and after the bridge.

Crenshaw’s mastery of song structure also remains intact on #392, no doubt because he knows full well how it can maximize the dynamics of a performance like that of “I Don’t See You Laughing Now.” His boyish voice has changed hardly a whit over the years, while his vocal delivery remains absolutely effortless, a virtue echoed in the intelligent command of the English language he displays in his lyrics: as succinct as in his musicianship, Crenshaw expresses himself clearly in emotional terms through his discerning eye for surrounding detail. And his guitar playing is equally succinct, as evidenced by the pithy break on “Red Wine” where he deftly inserts a solo into an arrangement wittily wrought to include an accordion..

The fluidity of such takes as “Red Wine” is all the more remarkable given many of those included here are Crenshaw working on basic tracks by himself, with astute touches supplied by others in the form of Manuel Quintana’s congas and bongos and Bryan Carroll’s vibraphone on the latter cut. Marshall’s self-sufficiency, equal to the independence, doesn’t preclude availing himself of good material from other songwriters, if for no other reason than to expand his production technique as he does with horns and orchestration on this rendition Bacharach & David’s “(They Long to Be)Close to You,” one of the many hits of Carpenters..

Yet his cover of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s leader John Sebastian’s “Didn’t Want to Have to Do It” is clearly a labor of love, credited, like James McMurtry’s “Right Here Now,” as follows ‘MC: everything,’ There’s a full band, however, on a song authored by Don and Phil Everly: “Man With Money,” is not one of the brothers’ best know numbers, but one deserving the attention Crenshaw and accompanists The Bottle Rockets give it in this live performance

All the way to the end, in the form of a demo titled “Front Page News,” The EP Collection reaffirms how proudly Marshall Crenshaw maintains both the assets of his recordings. The music on this disc may be more insinuating that effervescent, but it isn’t much less infectious, in its own way, than anything we’ve ever heard from this undeservedly unsung musician and songwriter.

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