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TBTS Reviews: It Feels So Good When I Stop (novel soundtrack)

August 9, 2009

Billed as a “novel soundtrack” album, Joe Pernice’s It Feels So Good When I Stop is a true pleasure. The album features three brief tracks of Pernice reading music-themed snippets from his debut novel of the same name, an original instrumental track, and nine wide-ranging covers of songs by Tom T. Hall, Del Shannon, Sebadoh, the Dream Syndicate, and others.

Even prior to this project, Pernice has proven himself an adroit, thoughtful cover artist, primarily on B-sides and in side projects. His innovative 2001 version of the Chameleons’ towering “Up the Down Escalator” strips away the post-punk, proto-Goth atmospherics of the original and reveals the melancholy core of such lines as “I’m gazing at faces staring blankly at me/Well, I suppose it’s just a sign of the times.” As with most great covers, Pernice’s “Up the Down Escalator” is a complete reimagination of the source material that ends up fitting squarely within his own musical idiom.

So it goes on It Feels So Good When I Stop as well. These covers are slightly more faithful to the originals than might have been expected based on the Chameleons precedent, but the results still could fit well on any of Pernice’s previous albums. Two delightful early tracks, Del Shannon’s “I Go to Pieces” (popularized by Peter & Gordon) and “I’m Your Puppet” (made a hit by James & Bobby Purify), offer pure Golden Oldies pop candy—all handclaps, ringing guitars, trilling keys, and spoken-word interludes. “Chevy Van,” an early 70s hit by Sammy Johns, provides a warm southern California breeze in between two indie-rock storm clouds—Sebadoh’s “Soul and Fire” and the Dream Syndicate’s “Tell Me When It’s Over.” Toward the end of the album, Pernice and company give us a joyful, toe-tapping take on Tom T. Hall’s “That’s How I Got to Memphis.”

Equally noteworthy is the relevance of these songs in their lyrical connections to the novel’s prevailing themes—romantic longing, end-of-relationship heartbreak, and even a little bit of the quiet happiness and sweet contentment to be found in the good times between the beginnings and endings. As could be expected from an artist with such a clear vision and such profound insight into his preferred subject matter, Pernice has made several perfect choices for his album to accompany the novel.

Pernice’s whiskey-and-velvet voice, the elegant and eloquent playing of his bandmates, and their impeccable arrangements make this unconventional album yet another fine addition to a catalog of remarkably consistent high quality. The soundtrack and the novel it accompanies are both sparkling reminders that Pernice is simply a singularly talented artist. Personally speaking, his work has enriched my life for more than a decade, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

  1. August 10, 2009 1:13 am

    Love it. I read Part Two of the novel with the Novel Soundtrack on repeat. Like you, I can’t wait to see what comes next.

    Will be seeing Mr. Pernice read and perform on this tour in September. Hopefully seeing him perform these tunes live will tide us over until the next Pernice Brothers album comes out.

  2. August 10, 2009 10:23 am

    Great review. It’s nice to see that the album compliments the book so well!


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