I have always appreciated the British band Mojave 3 for their subtle music -- they major in dreamy, sonic landscapes, and yet never lapse into the ethereal. They have always made real songs, song with hooks and melody and lyrical depth. I first discovered them with their fourth release, Spoon and Rafter, an album that I grew to love, but at the same time I realized that some folks would be bored with it as too dreamy, moody, and lacking in diversity.
I think that would change with the release of this year's Puzzles Like You, a decidedly poppy and upbeat installment in M3s brand of pop songwriting. It's a feel-good record, buoyant and even joyful at times, a real antidote for the angst-ridden stuff of most singer-songwriters. I haven't yet gotten tired of listening to it. Songs like “Puzzles Like You”, “Running With Your Eyes Closed” and “Big Star Baby” have warm tones that swim by you. In addition, there's enough variety in sounds here to maintain interest throughout the record.
Tonight I had a chance to hear Mojave 3 in concert at the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, NC. M3 is Rachel Goswell, Neil Halstead and Ian McCutcheon, and since Goswell is unable to tour right now due to health problems, I wondered how the show would go, that is, who would carry her part. I'd say it went well. The band was tight, if unengaging with the audience of about 75 people. Neil Halstead has a great voice and is able to carry the vocals alone (no one else sang), but listening to the record again, it's apparent that Rachel Goswell is missed -- she certainly adds texture to an already great sound.
But for me and my friend Jared, the opening act, Tim O'Reagan, was probably the more engaging. Tim is obviously a seasoned player, the drummer and principal songwriter for The Jayhawks (which, presumably is no longer a band, with O'Reagan out on his own, Gary Louris playing with Golden Smog and other projects, and Mark Olsen on his own). His sound -- which ranges from Americana to pop to flat out rock and roll -- was diverse and interesting, and he has a piercing vocal (with just a touch of rock and roll snarl so you know he means it). The lead guitarist was excellent and even sang lead on a song, and Tim was well-supported by a bassist and drummer. It was an excellent rendition of his latest solo release, simply titled Tim O'Reagan.
I'm amazed that these guys are willing to do what they do -- away from home, playing for very little, living like gypsies. What makes them do it? I remember what Pierce Pettis, a veteran singer-songwriter told me once: "I don't recommend that anyone do it unless they can't do anything else. I don't know how to do anything else." Maybe that's it. Regardless, I'm glad they showed up here.