Pernice Brothers

Yours, Mine & Ours (Ashmont)

Finally caught the Pernice Brothers a year or so ago at a club in Memphis, a first-time-caller-longtime-listener visit written in pen and underlined on my to-do list as soon as they opened a "Clear Spot" in my head and heart on 1998's Overcome by Happiness. But the show wasn't quite what I expected. Instead of replicating the lush, plush, hushed sounds of their two albums (The World Won't End followed in 2001), the band came out with suns blazing, burning away the winter-white of their recorded material until nothing but green showed through. The sad sacks that slouch through Joe Pernice's songs might not have been any happier, but as the group stripped away the strings and things to become the most literate bar band around, they certainly sounded like it, a cautious smile appearing below their watery eyes.

That live-band limberness lingers on Yours, Mine & Ours, the Pernice Brothers' third effort--or fifth, if you count Pernice's side steps under his own name (Big Tobacco) and as Chappaquiddick Skyline, and you should. The group kiss-kiss-kisses the Cure on "Sometimes I Remember" and proudly wears the Psychedelic Furs they've long threatened to break out of the cedar closet (they even covered "Love My Way" on a single) on "One Foot in the Grave." (Makes sense that the working title for the disc was Pretty in Pinkerton.) Both songs didn't necessarily fit the menu before, but they're the special here, not the side dish. You get the point early on: "The Weakest Shade of Blue" bats leadoff, swinging away with grinning guitars and a rhythm that drives like a rogue cop, racing to a falsetto fadeout that might make Dennis and Carl Wilson turn over in their graves just so they can give a thumbs-up.

Of course, the populace of Pernice's poetry remains pent-up and pinned-down; he brightens up the scenery but doesn't bother to recast the play. Which is fine: Pernice, a songwriter as consistent and overlooked as Rafael Palmeiro's Hall of Fame career, is at his best when exploring life's quiet desperation and hidden heartaches. His lyrics are littered with people "as lonely as the Irish sea" ("The Weakest Shade of Blue"), "amateurs...waiting for the universe to die" ("Waiting for the Universe"), misanthropes whose correspondence includes such kiss-offs as, "I hope this letter finds you crying/It would feel so good to see you cry" ("How to Live Alone"). This time around, however, Pernice and the band figure it might feel just as good to see someone smile, if only for a moment.

 
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