Brother J T

by Matthew Crain,  as appeared in October 2012

            The Svelteness of Boogietude (Thrill Jockey), John Terlesky’s eighteenth CD as alter ego Brother JT, does four things: 1) it steals your last sip of coffee; 2) it says “stink of dynamite”; 3) it grows two inches overnight in an empty glass; and 4) it doesn’t footnote its poundcake recipe. Prove it yourself after you buy it at brotherjt.com.

The Byrds, The Mothers, Steve Miller, Golden Earring—young JT never forgot any of the great 60s and 70s rock he heard on the radio while lying in the truck’s floorboard with his shirt off. He has a photographic ear, as illustrated on track five, “Be A,” in which JT channels John Fogerty the imaginary day he sat in with Herman’s Hermits to try to get to the heart of The Kinks. Brother JT reminds us to be everything we are and everything we are not, because, as his faux-Rickenbacker’s gold-glowing guitar strums tell us plainly, everybody on this earth (or at least in our part of Pennsylvania, JT’s home, with its glorious history of endless, mindless toil), everybody gets sanded down to nothing; ergo, don’t aid your own destruction by sabotaging yourself; in other words, do like JT: “Be a gypsy!/Be tipsy!/Be Nipsy Russell if you please!” (One of Boogietude’s beatitudes, if you will.)

Perseverance, courage and self-confidence are important themes of Svelteness, whose songs oscillate between sweet ballads and smart, funny psych-garage tunes. But its idée fixe is writ large in track six, “Sweatpants.” Which merely mirrors what’s happening this very moment in the dreaming part of the brain of this Funkenstein that ought to tape that thing to his leg. I mean, honestly! By the chorus everybody knows what Shondells song is on his mind—the crimson, the clover, the vibrato-kaleidoscopic sha-lah-lah-lah-lah-lah of this Tommy James swooning over his Aretha.

As for the guitar solo, it’s like Eddie Van Halen’s on “Runnin’ With The Devil”: its hair is parted on the side, sprayed and blow-dried in place, it’s on its best behavior, a nice young solo with a corsage pinned to its lapel and no danger of keeping Lula out past curfew or of wrecking the family car. But don’t be fooled: This is the one Mama warned you about. This solo hints at what happens when this Brüder aus einem anderen Planeten is onstage with his eyes rolled back in his head à la Son House and his head bobbling side to side. And so what if it’s for a handful of the most grim, miserable men, drunk in their tank tops, there for a cheap adventure to try to obliterate the fact that very soon they will get up off their dirty mattresses and return to driving their forklift back and forth across the warehouse, to taking their place in the line at the trencher plant to make adjustments and corrections and perform specific duties in vaults and manholes, and if they ever once think of “artists” it is with disdain because such people don’t “work”: he pours out his pearls for them.

John Terlesky is one of the most passionate singers and guitar players I’ve ever heard. He is inspired, fearless, he puts it to you like nobody else, and he goes out and he stays out. He is a Nasty Dog, a Funky King, a preacher that never went to school to “learn to be a preacher”—he was called, and, rude and shoeless, he answered his god’s summons. The Svelteness of Boogietude is his Sermon on the Mount: Lotta good stuff to live by, if you take it to heart.

 

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