Marvin Pontiac. Courtesy of Strange & Beautiful Music.
The band always hates the singer. Deep down in their wordless hearts of hearts, musicians harbor a not-so-secret grudge against vocalists. “Singer envy,” it’s called. Mediocre singers can easily garner more attention on stage than a brilliant drummer or saxophonist simply because they possess the most direct and powerful tool with which to communicate: words.
Possibly succumbing to singer envy and the desire to tell some tall tales, John Lurie, saxophonist and leader of the Lounge Lizards, has put down his horn for the time being, picked up a microphone and an eccentric alter ego for his newest CD, The Legendary Marvin Pontiac’s Greatest Hits.
Lurie, as the half-Malian, half-Jewish Marvin, sings in a mellow, deep, yet kind and quirky voice that mirrors the strangeness of the events and characters that inhabit his songs. Musically tasteful and ambient, similar in spirit to the instrumental work of the Lounge Lizards, Marvin Pontiac features a diversity of songs and instrumentations that refuse to be categorized, except that they are all interesting and fun.
The bluesy “I’m A Doggy” features Pontiac playing tasty harmonica and delivering a provocative vocal performance in which he sings and growls his way through lyrics rife with sexual innuendo. In “A Small Car” Lurie leaves the confines of the blues for the stylings of contemporary jazz minimalists. He manages to weave a delicate and hypnotic musical spell while spinning a yarn about midget farmers who leave their homes on a mission to see the world, driving small cars made from cans.
Other highlights include the spooky and sparse “Sleep At Night” featuring piano and harmonica, and the down and dirty “Now I’m Happy,” with its funky horn grooves. The listener is encouraged to suspend disbelief while on this evocative journey led by Lurie as he revisits the places and people that have existed inside his head for who knows how long.
In creating Pontiac as his alter ego, Lurie has found a way of telling these stories from a safe haven, one where he is comfortable and free to take chances with this new form of creative expression, a departure from what we have come to expect from him. Chances are the words have been inside his brain for some time, crammed in like all those midgets in their small cars, just waiting for the right moment to make their way out into the real world.
The Legendary Marvin Pontiac’s Greatest Hits was released this spring by Strange & Beautiful Music.