Jim Hall, Under A Broken Sky
Jim Hall’s latest solo CD, Under A Broken Sky is his best yet. Moving through several genres with a strong backbone of the blues it stands tall in the crowd. The songs “The Problem Tune”, and “Bar Room Stool” are some of the best songs I have ever heard from a local artist. He is quickly leaping ahead of the competition around here and keeping the blues alive in Duluth …. For now…
Despite his earlier vows to get outta Duluth , Jim, the town’s musical anchor, is staying here for the foreseeable future. A few months ago he tried to escape, but something kept him around. He summed up the situation with one word: “legalities.”
His latest album opens with “Here I Am” and has a harmonica dominating 1970s style guitar balladering. Traveling South, “Strange Dream” has a Delta blues feel. At 6 & ½ minutes the song has little format, but a John Lee Hooker kind of feel from the strings. The music is only half of the story when Jim writes a song though.
Lyrics are the other essential ingredient to the appeal of Jim’s music. On “Beast In The Yard” he sings, “The more I own, the more I owe… The more it breathes, the more I choke.” He seems to understand the price of everything and this only compliments other tunes. The lyrical hit of the album was the easy-going, “The Problem Tune.” Musically reminiscent of Arlo Guthrie’s “ Alice ’s Restaurant”, there was a lightheartedness to the piece. It had a folk whistlin’ introduction followed by lyrics that made you stop and think. Sure all songs make you think, but with a recent drought of truly intelligent lyrics in music it was refreshing. Jim sings, “The answer to the problem is always a bigger problem.” A great prophetic statement when combined with the previous verse about the escalation in the war on terror. He later sings in the song, “The answer to pollution is always more pollution… Solution, yeah, is not the solution.”
When I asked him about the song he said, “It’s about industrial society making life easier, but coming at someone else’s expense. Like the third world, Native Americans, animals…” Those are thoughts that we all know, but often forget. The way he presents it both musically and with the statements make them stand out. Many young bands just toss lyrics onto a piece of music, but could care less if the words dance with the music hand and hand. Jim is beyond dancing, he has the flow of an artisan ballerina gliding with a blues tap dancer in some magic speakeasy in the sky.
Musically speaking, “Bar Room Stool”, is an awesome tune. I personally would vote it in the top five of songs I have heard from Minnesota bands this year. As it opened there was this Ray Charles country sound, then it settled into something original very quickly. When Jim plucked the acoustic he had the precision of a jeweler. In the main chorus of the song he sings about wanting to get up to the bar stool so he can get a drink (and intoxicated). Every song brings something to the listener’s mind, like taking ownership, and this one is no exception. When I heard this song it made me think about the wait at bars to get a drink. One of the longest waits I have endured around town has got to be at the Tap Room. There have been several times where it took around 45 minutes to finally get served when it was busy. Most people up here have a lot of patience, but to someone who learned how to drink at the bars of St. Cloud State University it is like being on an alien planet. There usually is a lack of bartenders, but 5 people behind the bar. I love the Tap Room and it reminds me of The Fineline in Minneapolis , I hate that you wait forever to get served though. That is what “Bar Room Stool” was about, or what it conjured in my mind. In the song he just wants to get up to the bar stool to get a drink. Oh, and on the subject of the Tap Room, they take credit cards at the bar and have a cash machine 10 feet away by the bathrooms. To those of you who are too lazy to take out cash or won’t pay the fee, THANK YOU! You slow up the bar and cause us to wait 45 minutes, your $1.50 savings costs the bar a fortune and my liver even more. That is probably why this area has so many bars but only a handful of people at each one, if too many people show up the wait is unbearable. If a bar is busy they should not take credit cards, if it is busy there is enough business without them and people will pull out cash.
So was “Bar Room Stool” a great song? It would have made any wait for a drink enjoyable. That song and “The Problem Tune” sold the CD. There were times when Jim had a freestlyin’ “Beep – Bop, Bo Wop” ending in songs, it made the enjoyment of his playing match the value of listening to his songs. Don’t leave Duluth Jim; your voice is one that speaks for so many.