Gary Jules: Bird

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Gary Jules: <em>Bird</em>

Jules delights with imagery, disappoints with cliche

Listening to Bird, Gary Jules' new collaboration with The Group Rules, it's obvious the singer-songwriter's acquired folk status has gone to his head a little bit. Jules' panoramic imagery of the "old west" in his latest albumis breathtaking but overly-glamorized.

Jules has always had a knack for mixing urban and rural landscapes. In Trading Snakeoil for Wolf Tickets, "The Princess of Hollywood" ambled over steel-guitar licks and harmonica chords. In Bird, open back roads, cotton fields and snake charmers mingle unabashedly with "shiny new umbrellas" and "big jet airplanes" to a steady steel swing. It's a magical world, and with Jules' rose-colored glasses on, the journey is more than delightful.

But he allows folk cliches to carry him a little too far. Jules forgets that some images are just too over-used, like his oft-repeated personifications: "My mother, the water," "My father the sun" and "sister sunlight." Joan Baez and Bob Dylan could get away with these staples 30 years ago, but they sound trite coming from a non-icon like Jules, admittedly talented though he is.

Jules is at his best when simple, unexpected lyrics match The Group Rules' rambling sunny-afternoon beats. Their backing is flawless, especially guitar-master Ben Peeler (of Wallflowers fame) whose lap-steel and electric guitar alternatively mosey along with a bluesy swagger ("Been a Long Time") then speed off in a frenzied sprint ("The Road Beside the Highway"). When "the soul of Joe Strummer" dances while "standing on the grave of James Earl Ray" to racing lap-steel chords, you just want to settle in and stay in Jules' imaginative world.

Listen to Gary Jules on his MySpace page.