I love songs that tell stories. I'm partial to them in a way that if I got jury duty to pick the best of them, I'd be kicked out due to my relentless love of any and all songs conveying even a semblance of plot.
Knowing this, I still feel comfortable saying that the 1999 release of The Legende of Jeb Minor is worthy of a deferred hat tip, even if the only people that end up caring are those that enjoy a good tale.
I accidently stumbled on this album about five years ago and picked it up based solely on the fact that it had a Captain Ahab lookalike on the cover. The album sat around not being listened to for a long time. Then one day I picked up a Smithsonian Collection of sailing songs. (Don't ask why, I just did, and I stand by my decision.)
Anyway, this sailing collection made me remember The Legende of Jeb Minor, and when I popped it in recently, I was a bit surprised by the sound of it. This wasn't as folky as I'd have thought, nor is it very seaworthy, but damn, it's pretty good.
The album is an eclectic mix of influences, which when you decode the music-geek language means: It's not all good. What's good here is stellar, though, and makes up for the less-than memorable tracks that make up half the album.
The title track features a rumpus tune that could easily be confused with The Decemberists, while "The Bird Song" or "Smiling Baby" might be better suited on a Paul Simon album. A cooler, more hip version of Paul Simon, anyway, or maybe Jeff Buckley. Pick one of them and run with it. I don't care which really.
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Disregarding my imagined influences, this album isn't particularly overlooked so much as underexposed. I'm not entirely certain the band released more than a couple records, neither of which reached much acclaim and neither of which received any type of coverage. This is the nature of most music but there is something charismatic and lasting on some of these tracks, even if the album as a whole doesn't stand the test of time all that well.
There is a familiarity with The Legende of Jeb Minor that I can't entirely explain. Sure it sounds a bit like The Decemberists because it uses accordion and sea shanties, but this album came out before The Decemberists even formed. It's a nice mix of music overall, even if it hops genres and influences from Jethro Tull to Queen in a single line.
More importantly though, these are songs that tell stories as fables or shanties and you get the feeling of movement and progression throughout. Perhaps my being partial to a good yarn is getting in the way of an accurate critique, but I can't say I particularly care in these regards.