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Published: 2008/12/08
by Brian Robbins

Whatever Happened I Apologize – Jay Bennett

Rock Proper

Jay Bennett. There let the record show that a review of Jay Bennett’s new download-only album began with his name rather than the phrase “ex-Wilco sideman.” By Bennett’s own admission, the multi-instrumentalist/studio whiz comes complete with his own “built-in lead-in paragraph” about the Wilco years. Well, let the record also show that Jay has taken a big step further down a road of his own with this stripped-down 10-track collection.

Bennett’s new Whatever Happened I Apologize is a departure from much of his past work. Simply put, the master of what-this-track-needs-is-one-more-weird-noise-and-it’ll-be-perfect (and staunch defender of vinyl) has offered up a digital-only acoustic album much of it just the man, his guitar, and some pretty open emotions.

Here are a couple of ground rules to follow when you listen to Whatever Happened I Apologize: First, don’t get too hung up playing the “sounds like” game. No doubt, if nobody’d warned you beforehand, you might think that the bittersweet weirdness of “The Engines Are Idle” was a long-lost Warren Zevon demo. Or that you’d just stumbled across a very early Bowie buried treasure when “How Dull They Make The Razor” begins its lurching dance out of the speakers. (Don’t be scared.)

Secondly, don’t do the “what if” thing, either. This isn’t a behind-the-scenes demo of partially developed songs the nakedness and the warts are part of the performances. They are offered up the way the way they were meant to be. Sure, when “I’ll Decorate My Love” begins, it’s easy to image a fiddle and Tele, backed by a stripped-down drum kit and bass tucked into the mix but don’t. Savor the moment. Feel the words. And when Jay’s buddy Edward Burch adds a light layer of background vocal, well, just grin and enjoy. The moments when Jay does add a little extra Jay to the mix (the sweet mando of “Without The Benefit Of Sight”, for instance), it’s just enough to get the job done and it’s only there for a reason.

Whatever Happened is really a diary of several days of creative outburst by Bennett spontaneous performances, mixed as they were done, with much of the lyrics taking form on the fly with no second-guessing. It’s not a happy-go-lucky album, but it’s not without hope. It sounds very personal, but it’s not embarrassing to listen to. When Jay sings “There were cracks on the sidewalk wherever you’d step/There were crumbs in the bed wherever you slept/The best part of the record is the part where it skips/But she lost the lyrics and the jacket got ripped”, you know that feeling. You know you know that feeling.

In the magic world of jam, we oftentimes look for the moments of creativity that develop from long meditations on an extended groove. In the case of Whatever Happened, Jay Bennett lets us listen as he jumps off the edge, freefalls, tumbles, and somehow lands on his feet repeatedly 10 times in just under 40 minutes, to be exact.

It’s a brave performance.

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