Paul Westerberg the inflammatory, semi-reclusive ex-lead singer and primary songwriter of the infamous Replacements, has quietly churned out some stellar little solo records that fly so low below the radar they might as well be skimming dirt. Just recently I purchased an unopened, untouched copy of his 2004 LP Folker (Vagrant Records) for just a smidge over 5 bucks at a used record store. Consider that purchase an easy decision and, in retrospect, a dynamite one.
Berg's solo work tends to go something like this: ragged, proud, jaded, sometimes half-cocked and often times painstakingly brilliant. Folker fits this bill rather well and while not being as compositionally solid as the ramshackle resilience of the Mono/Stereo double album (Mono being billed as a Grandpaboy record) it still displays some great kicking and howling action. Westerberg sometimes comes across as a mortally wounded rock and roll dirge-meister one second only to bounce back with an irreverent, playful disposition the next.
"Jingle" aptly demonstrates the later with an album opening jokesong that proceeds to be so darned catchy you'll pull your sideburns out. "Everybody really oughta have one, Everybody really oughta buy one" he sings whimsically, obviously taking a cheap shot at the artificial, big business music scene. "My Dad" is about just what it sounds, an ode to Papa Westerberg that demonstrates a deft sentimentality that forgoes brash detachment and yanks gently on the heartstrings. Same goes for the following "Looking Up In Heaven," which one suspects may be a continuation of the former song's subject matter.
The prickly "$100 Groom" is a diamond in the rough and sounds like what could be an eccentric, alt-country Hank Williams Sr. song about mishaps getting married at the Justice of The Peace. Though often listless and oblivious on much of Folker, "As Far As I Know" sees the man clearly focused and flexing his unparalleled songwriting gifts on a song with plenty of lyrical meat to compliment a healthy side of melody.
Nothing spectacular happens on the way out the door, but the shambling, frayed racket that concludes the album is still primetime Westerberg. He may not have been painting his masterpiece but it obviously sounds that he's enjoying the virtues of rock and roll abandon while snagging himself a little basement-bred catharsis in the process. While this doesn't necessarily lend itself to rave reviews (I've seen Folker rated somewhere around the 3 to 3 and 1/2 stars meter) it suits this fan just fine. As long as he's following his dirty-winged muse, I'm game and especially if I'm paying the price of what could net a Meatball sandwich from Subway.
Folker, may not set the world afire, but it admirably fits the bill and (cliché, cliché) is still mop and shoulders above what most artists call albums. You see, everytime you listen to the latter day Westerberg records, you get the feeling that the man himself invited you over to sit on a tattered couch and check out "what he's been working on lately." For me, as long as the invitation to check out some spiky, intimate stumble and roll is open, I'll be there....with a PBR 6- ringer in tow.