- The Washington Times - Monday, September 6, 2004

Paul Westerberg


Vagrant Records

Paul Westerberg is on a roll. If you count releases from his alter ego, Grandpa Boy, the Minneapolis basement-taper has put out five records in two years, each one better than the last — and, dare I say it, as good as the Replacements in their mid-‘80s prime.

The latest is the cheekily named “Folker,” whose hardest-rocking song is “Folk Star.” The album, mostly acoustic but recorded in the brash style of “Gasoline Alley”-era Rod Stewart, opens with a swat at every clammy talent scout who has ever asked “Where’s the single?”

“Jingle (Buy It)” answers with a merry commercial melody over which Mr. Westerberg absurdly repeats, “Buy it now, buy it now, buy it now/This is my single, this is my jingle.”

The song sneers, “There. Happy? I could give you what you want in my sleep, but I won’t. Now, can I get on with my record?”

“Folker,” which Mr. Westerberg has had on deck for a year, was made in the same improvisational, Unabomber-esque, play-everything-myself method that he alighted on two years ago.

It’s messy but unfailingly direct. Frankly, it takes some getting used to — some acclimatization and acculturation, if you will.

At first, my take on 2002’s “Stereo/Mono” and last year’s “Come Feel Me Tremble” was: This stuff is inherently excellent, but it would sound better with a drummer keeping consistent time and an engineer filtering out the impurities.

I’m over that now. Borrowing his last album title from a line in “How Can You Like Him?” Mr. Westerberg invites the listener here to “Come feel me tremble/Feel my marrow.” No less, and definitely no more: “Bring a thimble, and I’ll pour my thoughts out,” he adds.

This no-fuss approach allowed Mr. Westerberg to make the most honest record of his career. “My Dad,” about his late father, is full of casual yet deeply personal and loving observations.

The dying curmudgeon tells his son, whom he has never seen perform, that he paid too much for a Christmas gift, a flat-screen TV; keeps a picture of his only grandson on his dresser and a Bible next to his baseball box scores; refuses to see doctors, as “they’ll only make him come back.”

Things have come full circle for the 44-year-old singer-songwriter, who raged on “I Hate Music” (from the Mats first album):

I hate my father

One day I won’t

I hate my father

Just get off my back

Indeed, “Folker” is brimming with life affirmations, which is strange coming from the often suicidally inclined Mr. Westerberg.

Straightforwardly, there’s “New Life” as well as the buoyant “Looking up in Heaven,” on which Mr. Westerberg turns down an offer to stay in paradise at the cost of, you know, death: “They asked me to stick around, but I told ‘em there’s some other place I gotta check out tonight.”

Where “Tremble” and the Grandpa Boy side projects gave Mr. Westerberg an outlet for Keith Richards-style electric guitar riffing, songs such as “As Far as I Know” see him working his poppy “Dyslexic Heart” pedal. Such sprightly melodies would have Neil Diamond singing in his shower.

I can’t predict how long this second wind — gust is more like it — will last, but this album and the handful of keepers that precede it have me hoping those perennial Replacements reunion rumors don’t come true.

Why rock a folker’s boat when it’s sailing this well?

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