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Scarecrows Burn

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Album Review

Scarecrows Burn, New York singer/songwriter Jonathan Pointer's debut, is a low-key collection of haunting, sophisticated folk-based tunes with a penchant for the underbelly of love, life, the road and the sea. Not necessarily new themes in folk music, but at his best Pointer redeems them with language that is able to get his emotional point across, while at the same time not really giving too much away. Tracks such as "The Sea Tonight," the severed love of the title-song, the Randy Newman twistedness of "Smells Like Love" and the betrayal of "Evangeline" are almost like impressionistic sketches, often skeletal and vague, while at the same time vivid, evoking mood more than actual details. Throughout Scarecrows Burn there are looming shadows, whether it's death, demons, broken hearts or broken dreams, which don't really make for casual listening. Even jokes such as the novelty number "The Baby Smokers," or memories of youth, like "Highway 13" and "Ascension Day," veer toward the dark side. Still, it's the lovely, almost exclusively acoustic arrangements, built around Pointer's intricate guitar work, his limited yet intriguing voice and fetching melodies, whose subtleties begin to imprint themselves on your mind after a few spins, that draw you into his songs. Pointer does have the tendency though to slide a little too close to the beat romanticism of Jack Kerouac and early Tom Waits, whose "Broken Bicycles" seems to be the blueprint for the Pointer- and Fred Koller-penned "Yard Sale." And while these moments aren't totally void of charm, songs like the barroom worship of "The Psalms of Owen Tabor" and the underappreciated jazzman in "Gauloise Blues (Smokin' the Night Away)," co-written with Koller, can overly sentimentalize their down-and-out heroes. Even with its occasional lyrical flaws, Scarecrows Burn is a beautifully understated, promising first record by an artist who should only get better.

Scarecrows Burn, Jonathan Pointer
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