Jerome Godboo’s previous releases (Déjà Vu, Live in Tel Aviv 2002, Pain and Glory) have addressed details of his personal relationships in an honest, if negative manner, but Humdinger centers itself on the roundly positive influences now shaping his life.
The fun begins with a whimsical entry entitled, “Beans”, which is introduced by the lyrics, “‘Zydeco’ means ‘haricot’ and ‘haricot’ means ‘beans’, so pass the salt, you gorgeous Cajun queen”. While the music sounds more like swing-jazz than Zydeco, it was inspired by Jane Hayes’ Bean Keepers, a children’s story about growing rare beans.
Never one to focus on blowing his own horn (so to speak), he includes in his liner notes “The Family Side Show”, which gives us personal glimpses into their world of gardening and holistic nutrition as they relate to the sustainability of a healthy life. Another side project, “Cirque D’irt”, naturally incorporates a musical component to its purpose of “dancing through paradise and living on the circus edge”.
“Xmas Storm” details a drive through hazardous road conditions on a trip to visit his daughter, Jessie, now residing in the Greater Ottawa area, while the title track is a lively boogie-shuffle homage, ostensibly to Jane.
“Eye on You”, previously recorded on Live in Tel Aviv 2002 and a favourite in his live performances, is a sassy strutter that is bass and guitar-driven offset with Jerome’s trademark vocal calisthenics. Long-time collaborator Alec Fraser expertly provides his signature bass and production prowess on the CD, while Shawn Kellerman forges an equally strong alliance fingering the treble clef. Renowned drummer Al Cross is always right on the mark, displaying the all-important enthusiasm without being overbearing.
Upping the tempo even more is “Janey Jane”, a raucous blend of Zydeco and rockabilly, with Jerome’s harmonica aptly replacing the typical accordion.
“Wounded Healer” is a slow blues about needing protection and fearing abandonment, showcasing Kellerman’s dynamic talent, alternately tender and then downright blistering.
“Dogman” follows that intense musical reverie with a fast-paced, raunchy cow-punk rocker featuring scorching slide guitar and James Cotton-like harmonica trade-offs that are further enhanced on “Mother”, appearing later in the CD. I’m not sure if the lyrics are about taking risks, but that’s how I interpret “Jerome, you’re too young to die; you can’t even afford your funeral; think about your wife and child; think about me, you silly fool”. This is my favourite fast track, hands down.
The musical rollercoaster takes an enjoyable dip with “Stinky Gardener”, a mid-tempo shufflin’ sway about an unappreciative boss taking the glory for his worker’s hard labour.
“Don’t Cry, Baby” is a relaxed rumba shuffle with lyrical pleading for reconciliation.
“Mother” is a crawl-paced, harmonica-weeping, guitar-wailing conversation about death. At first, I thought he was referring to a near-fatal maternal relationship of a more personal kind. I then realized the cancer-stricken mother was more likely mother earth, and the issue being the gradual but inevitable destruction of her “womb” (i.e. our planet). Hopefully it’s not a combination of the two scenarios. Although it’s almost seven minutes in length, it’s beautifully performed and a thought-provoking, if vaguely depressing musical opus.
“Rock to Build a House On” is classic Godboo, both musically and vocally – a rollickin’ shuffle about maintaining a strong foundation for harmonious family life. Other than at the coda, Jerome graciously steps back to allow his sidemen to shine.
“Deep Sea Diver” (mystic rider) is a memorable closer – a laid-back tempo with a funky bass-driven groove with cascading blues-rock guitar riffs and harmonica that create an unusual musical version of an animated fantasy-adventure film short.
I admit I didn’t hear anything wildly different on Humdinger, historically speaking, but that’s not to say this release is without passion. Jerome is well-known and respected for his flamboyant vocal and musical style, and his sidemen are always impeccable. I would even suggest this recording is the one he is most comfortable with to date, as it seems to reflect a meaningful purpose in his chosen career and personal life. For something that is completely different, check out the Brokenjoe trio project, Long Walk to Nowhere, which is comprised of Joe Toole, Jerome Godboo and Alec Fraser.