Contextual Theory and Jules Shear’s 12 New Songs
“A theory which argues that the contexts in which human activity takes place—the time, the space, and the place in the sequence of events—are crucial to the nature of that activity. T. Hägerstrand, who gave birth to the idea, explained that processes are constrained and shaped by the terrestrial space and time in which they take place: every action is situated in, and shaped by, a particular space and time.”
This is a little embarrassing. Before I started to get into Jules Shear the solo artist, I’d often confuse his band Jules and The Polar Bears with Jake and The Family Jewels. While the former sounded to me a bit like early-Hall and Oates, the latter was a folk group that kicked around the Village for a short time back in the mid-sixties.
Jake was the male half of the duo Bunky and Jake, who released their self-titled album in 1968, and then another album a year later before the breakup. A few musicians had augmented their backup band in the studio, including Buzzy Linhart and Felix Pappalardi. Felix’s name might sound familiar to some of you because he was the producer of Cream’s Disraeli Gears (and a co-writer of “Strange Brew”) and the first Youngbloods’ album. He was also the bass player for Leslie West’s band Mountain. “Mississippi Queen”. Felix was shot and killed by his wife Gail back on April 17, 1983, and she was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and served not quite two years in prison.
These days he’s buried next to his mom at the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx; four hundred acres of caskets and stones, near the B-Q-E and the L-I-E. Some of the other folks keeping him company there are Duke Ellington, Illinois Jacquet, Milt Jackson, Miles Davis, W.C. Handy, Coleman Hawkins, Joe “King” Oliver and Max Roach. I can shut my eyes and imagine a little night music.
I wouldn’t be surprised if by now you’re wondering about what this might have to do with Jules Shear and his new album, Longer To Get To Yesterday. So am I.
Here’s what I scribbled down the other day while riding on the train: Jules and I were both born in 1952; fifteen days apart. We both grew up in Pennsylvania. It’s very possible we read the same children’s books, had the same toys, wore similar clothes, watched the same television programs, went to drive-in movies, saw Elvis and the Beatles for the very first time on the Ed Sullivan Show, listened to “boss deejays” make dedications to teenage lovers and probably both started playing guitar around the same age. He moved to California, and I did too. He wrote that hit single for Cyndi Lauper and the guitar player on her album is someone I’ve known since 1966. C’mon…it’s just a little coincidental, huh?
I realize that I love the music that Jules makes because we share something. “The circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.”
Longer To Get To Yesterday has been residing inside the music device that is attached to my headphones for three weeks now, and I’ve listened to it no less than sixteen times. From end to end. Start to finish.Which is something for me boy, since I listen to everything in shuffle mode because I like my music to come to me like the old Seeburg jukeboxes they had in the diners I used to hang out at when I was a kid. Grant Alden, one of the No Depression co-founders once asked, “You don’t listen to albums from start to finish, Ed? What kind of fun is that?” I’d thought at the time that it was my submission to the age of digititzation, but nope…it’s because I love songs. Albums are simply a carrier. A vessel or a ve-hi-cle. A marketing tool. Something designed by the suits. (I know…I’m in the minority here. Let’s not argue.)
I told Jules’ wife Pal Shazar (by the way, the album of songs that they recorded and released together earlier this year is magic) that I wasn’t going to write a review. What I really wanted to post here was an essay. Because the thing is this…Jules Shear has an amazing and unique ability to craft some of the richest textures of chord changes, melody and lyrics that my ears have ever experienced. And after ’bout fifteen years of being faithful as a pussycat to his creative output, I want to reach out , grab you by your throats, get into your faces and scream J U S T L I S T E N.
Another thought about context. Jules has absorbed at the very least a hundred years of musical heritage and his songs are like confetti…little pieces of sounds and notes that evoke memories and feelings in me. And (I assume) him. And a group of hardcore fans. And with every listen, I hear something new.
I’ve made a very short list.
Bob Dylan, the Wilson brothers circa Surf’s Up, the Danelectro Sitar, Phil Specter, Stones, Billy J. Kramer, Davie Allen and The Arrows, John Sebastian, Tom Petty, Steve Earle, Grateful Dead, Paul Simon, Matthew Sweet, Roger McGuinn…which is just barely some of what I hear in his music.
Jules says of my list: “The longer the better, as far as I’m concerned. I guess any list would have the Beach Boys and Dylan. I feel like there’s a lot of people who could list those two and still be terrible. Maybe me.”
And Pal says: “Jules is under the headphones ALL NIGHT EVERY NIGHT. His taste is ridiculously eclectic. Joe Tex, Serge Gainsbourg, tons of sixties pop, Zombies, Spirit, tons of Lightnin’ Hopkins.”
Have I made my point yet? Those of us who are of a particular age can relate to the sounds and emotions that these new songs channel because it’s what we grew up with and what we know and remember. And it feels comfortable.
And that’s all I know.
Important things you need to know:
-After being on what seems like 153 different record labels, this is a self-released album.
-iTunes and Amazon will probably come later. (I’ll add the links.)
-You can purchase the Shear Shazar album here.
-The Jules Shear Facebook page is here. Any concert dates will be listed here. I think.
Sherry Wallace is a friend, a fan and a vidder…someone who creates music videos that use the footage of one or more visual media sources. She has tons of them on You Tube. Search them. This is one she posted the other night from a song on the new album. I like it lots.
Jules and I both play Takemine guitars. He does it upside down. I don’t.