Record Review - 3 September 26 2001

Talk about a long, strange trip. This classically trained Charleston quartet, which takes its name from a song by bluesmen Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, played traditional Irish folk mixed with blues before going the original pop singer/songwriter route in 1998 for its major-label debut. That was followed by a head-scratching Russian-themed show complete with Ukrainian garb. Jettisoned by its previous label after recording this obtuse sophomore effort, JLC opted to release Vertigo on an indie imprint.

Shifting approaches again, JLC now ply an ornate, highly stylized Counting Crows'-affected folk/pop sound with twisting, often meandering song structures and an over-reliance on singer Jay Clifford's soaring, spotlight-hogging vocals. With an almost operatic, emotive approach somewhere between Rufus Wainwright, Squeeze's Glenn Tilbrook and Donovan, Clifford steals the show — which is a mixed blessing.

The overwrought, wordy tunes are so crammed with ideas, there's little room left for melodies. Clifford sings ... and sings ... and sings with swooning dramatic flair, but you're hard pressed to understand what he's prattling on about. Meanwhile, the rest of the band facelessly lends support to Clifford's near-solo performance.

Regardless of the band's lighthearted name, the dizzying Vertigo is the sort of overly ambitious, serious adult pop that children and grownups will have equal difficulty jumping along to.

Jump, Little Children performs Sat., Sept. 29, at the Variety Playhouse.??