Jonathan Rundman: Public Library

Jonathan Rundman
Public Library
Salt Lady Records

It would be simple enough to lump Minneapolis-by-way-of-Chicago songwriter Jonathan Rundman in with the long line of nerdy-wordy new-wave stylists that came before him--riff-rock heroes such as Marshall Crenshaw, Peter Holsapple, Michael Hall, or Freedy Johnston. But that would be shortsighted, because Rundman is a prolific original unto himself, and this is hardly some Rhino Records-collection-in-waiting, but a pop-rock gem that subtly refracts the tragic-romantic times we find ourselves slogging through.

Backed by the Silos and various New York musicians, and produced by Silos leader Walter Salas-Humara, the full-bodied Public Library is rife with songs about love and war. In "Cuban Missile Crisis," Rundman lends his Midwestern twang to a love story that "could survive atomic war," while "Second Language" adopts the voice of a newly immigrated stranger in this very strange land. "Librarian" is a loving homage to words and the people who champion them; "Smart Girls" a dopey tribute to bookish babes that wouldn't sound out of place on Radio Disney or Radio K, and "747s" is a rockabilly rave about landings, departures, and making out that, yes, soars. The only clunker is "Almost Never See," a Springsteenesque ballad whose desperate protagonist sounds more caricature than character.

The high point is "The Serious Kind," an elegant pedal steel-haunted theme song for the mess age that CNN addicts and cynics will never hear, but to which I found my head involuntarily bowed and nodding amens. Similarly, Public Library is a record for anyone who hasn't given up on the idea that good songs, electric/acoustic guitars, and a great drummer are the key to all sorts of epiphanies. Rundman is one of those true believers, and he just moved to Minneapolis. Someone should make him feel welcome, like he's making something happen, like his newborn baby has a shot at a better world than this one, because it's rare for a man to stand on a stage so nakedly, singing so boldly about trouble and fear and what's in everybody's heart, if not mind: "We need hope, a whole lot of hope/We need the serious kind/We need love, a whole lot of love/We need the serious kind."

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