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Published: 2003/03/25
by Chip Schramm

Defector – Jojo Hermann

Fat Possum Records 80355-2

Defector is the sophomore release for Widespread
Panic's Jojo Hermann on the Fat Possum label. It also
represents the second studio alliance with friends
Luther and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi
All-Stars. While his first "solo" album featured
virtually every member of his full-time band
supporting on one track or another, Defector brings
Hermann closer to his Mississippi delta roots by way
of R.L. Burnside's usual band. Kenny Brown and Cedric
Burnside provide some guitar and drums respectively,
while Takeeshi Imura adds bass. Paul "Crumpy"
Edwards, the Athens music institution from Bloodkin,
plays bass here too, as well as on the original album. George McConnell also picks a few good moments to add
some guitar, and there are a gaggle of special guests
who add additional elements throughout the album.

But despite all the apparent differences in the lineup
from Smiling Assassin to Defector, Hermann's
whimsically humorous songwriting really draws more
similarities than differences between the two. And he
still plays guitar on several tracks, along with his
usual keyboards, so that added wrinkle also makes the
album interesting for those familiar with Hermann's day gig.
The strengths of the tunes here
lie in the faster-paced numbers like "I'll Get Around
To It" and "Annie Stay". Almost all of the tracks on
the album feature Hermann narrating some sort of
story, but the exact details are always just a little
bit out of reach. In some cases he has combined
phrases and sayings in such a way that they could be
interpreted to mean just about anything, yet his
juxtaposition is just clever enough to hook the
listener and keep the beat rolling. The songs are
also relatively short, so this not an album full of
marathon jams by any means.

And, in a way, it's almost a shame that the album
doesn't have more jamming on it. Unfairly comparing
the album to live performances by the band reveals
that Luther Dickinson is more than capable of taking
the bridge to most of these songs and blowing a solo
through the roof of any bar on the highway. There are
special guests galore, but some of the arrangements
seem forced. "Step On Over Me" is a track that seems
oddly out of place on the album. Glen Duncan's
violin, while fine on technical terms, just seems
totally unnecessary.

But once again the songwriting carries the day here.
Danny Hutchens from Bloodkin conspired with Hermann to
pen "The True Blood Assembly of Ravensville," a tune
that is so much a caricature of the two musicians'
unique styles of writing and performance that it
almost begs to be played more than once in a row to
get the full effect. Full of direct and indirect
references to death, religion, sin, and "white trash
blues", it packs quite a punch in a little package.
"Smoking Factory" is a post-industrial anthem with an
ironically sing-songy harmony and powerful guitar
hook. "And You Wonder Why" is another equally
cheerful and ominous song that seems to draw the
listener in like cigarettes or dark chocolate, as "the
world is spinning against you."

Defector is a good album in that it highlights the
strengths of Jojo Hermann on what is truly a solo
album. It is a slight disappointment that with many
of the same strong players from the original album,
there isn't any deeper instrumental exploration or
studio improvisation, especially from Luther Dickinson
and George McConnell. That was clearly not one of the
goals for this album, but the potential for further
development was surely there. Overall, this album
will appeal to fans of Jojo Hermann the
singer-songwriter, as well as anyone who can
appreciate the kind of dry and amusing songs that were
also found on his first album.

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