From the opening seconds from The Permanent Smilers latest album Jazz Liberties you could tell it was going to be a set that would interest and surprise. Complicated, a jaunty little ditty, begins with a distant sounding jazz sample from the 1920s. Its inclusion to top and tail this track isn’t strictly necessary but it is typical of the Rochdale singer-songwriter to lace his often sombre lyrics with humourous sounds and effects and is all the better for it.
The second track, Shoes, with its rolling Strangler-esque keyboards, is reminiscent of an earlier period in Richard’s career in the Lemongrowers. This track would not have been out of place on his Segments set from the mid-90s while Curfew of the Sun which follows is in fact a re-recorded version of an unrealeased gem from as far back as 1992. Don’t be fooled into thinking that his music hasn’t developed because Curfew in particular has at long last had its fullest potential finally ripped out of it. The stabby guitars and percussion work surprisingly well and the mellow brass section towards the close of the song make this one of Richard’s best tracks for quite some time.
But wait, it gets even better as the rocky Temporary kicks in with its immaculate production which puts it up there with anything in the guitar-pop mainstream today. Picture a gig with the Killers or Snow Patrol and a bouncing crowd and you will get a feel for this terrific track. However, Underground, which follows is a little disappointing by comparison. Again the keyboards and wacky effects are there but it just doesn’t grab me in the way the preceding songs have done.
The second half of the album commences with a change of pace. A solitary voice and heart felt words. A gentle drum tap and a twang of country guitar leads to the thrash not dissimilar to Temporary before again finishing as it started ending by a simple piano note. A very unusual piece which will intrigue any listener.
The years are again rolled back as another old song, Heaven, is extensively reworked as You’re Probably Right. It’s very disorientating in many ways as the lyrics are recognisable but the melody chops and changes in many an unfamiliar pattern but things get stranger still as yet another track from the vaults in The Spider Song is dusted off from his original 1991 demo tape. This was a time when Richard was using the moniker, The Grind, and again it is a radical twist on familiar material but the mid-section guitars and the progressively faster outro make this a more than valid inclusion.
Eventually the title track appears which struck me as strange and would be probably have been better suited to have been sequenced in the first couple of songs of the set. That said, it’s fantastic and is a kitchen sink, cacophony of styles which perfectly sums up the Jazz Liberties concept for the album. This is the pre-cursor to Sheiking which is surely a Permanent Smilers homage to Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire. Richard even manages to rip-off his own melody from last year’s Rochdale Heroes single, a song released to mark the centenary of Rochdale football club. A strange combination indeed!
Jazz Liberties closes with another of the album’s stronger tracks and the only one to stick to a slow pace throughout. Somewhere Near Goodbye appears to be a nod towards the stresses of long distance relationships and the melancholy is enhanced by sad brass instruments and that bluesy guitar again. It is a beautiful piece and is wonderfully crafted lyrically and is the perfect ending for what is clearly one of Richard’s finest works.
It would be easy to criticise the usage of old material even when the interpretation has been dramatically changed but for me it makes for an all round better album. The musical styles are varied which makes for interesting listening and the inclusion of a few familiar songs only adds nostalgia into the mix. It is a rare treat indeed!
The album is available to buy from the website where you can hear samples of a few of the songs. The myspace page even allows for the album’s best song to be downloaded for free.