Review: Jon DeRosa - A Wolf in Preacher’s Clothes (2012)


artist: Jon DeR­osa
release: A Wolf in Preacher’s Clothes
format: LP
year of release: 2012
label: Mother West
dur­a­tion: 41:56

Not too long after the intro­duct­ory Anchored EP, Jon DeR­osa (Aark­t­ica) presents his first solo LP under his own name. In the style of Anchored, DeR­osa delves deep into music his­tory, coup­ling his own song­writ­ing with styl­istic influ­ences from per­haps every dec­ade since the 1940s. Gui­tar and voice are cent­ral to the songs on A Wolf in Preacher’s Clothes, but equally import­ant are the arrange­ments for strings, brass, organ, and back­ing vocals. There’s bits of clas­sic croon­ing in here, a good help­ing of soul, and the spirit of new wave.

The albums opens quite strongly with the uptempo “Birds of Brook­lyn”, and par­tic­u­larly the waltz­ing “True Men”, a prime show­case for DeRosa’s delight­fully warm voice. “Snow Coffin” is one of two tracks off the Anchored EP that also fea­ture here - a lovely piece with driv­ing rhythm sec­tion, cello (Julia Kent), and excel­lent vocal har­mon­ies. This some­what sad piece is fol­lowed by “Teen­age Goths”, which is as uplift­ing as the pre­vi­ous song is con­tem­plat­ive; it’s one of the tracks that embod­ies the eclectic mix of pop influ­ences on this album the best. The first half ends with The Blue Nile’s “Easter Parade”, a mar­vel­lous cover that keeps the emo­tional intens­ity of the ori­ginal, but with del­ic­ate piano, cello and trum­pet notes added.

After an A-side that’s excel­lent all the way through, the begin­ning of B is a bit under­whelm­ing. The first three tracks are all good enough, but don’t stand out all that much, and the retro influ­ences of the album become almost too much on tracks like “Who Decides” and “Don’t Say Good­night”, where the com­pos­i­tions and lyr­ics are barely ori­ginal enough to keep them from slip­ping into simple old-timey music fet­ish­ism. Good thing that the last two tracks are there to remind us of what DeR­osa also has to offer us. The dark folky “Ladies in Love” is as beau­ti­ful here as it was on Anchored, and the rework­ing of Aark­t­ica’s “Hol­low Earth The­ory” is a mar­vel­lous closer. The ori­ginal was nice enough, but the added arrange­ments for cello and Lor­raine Lelis’ always flaw­less back­ing vocals take this track to where it truly needs to be.

Des­pite a couple of less inter­est­ing tracks, A Wolf in Preacher’s Clothes deliv­ers on the great prom­ise of the pre­ced­ing EP, and DeR­osa proves bey­ond doubt that he can pull off the ambi­tious com­bin­a­tion of a broad spec­trum of influ­ences. At the core of it all is soph­ist­ic­ated song­writ­ing, some­thing which he’s been doing for at least fif­teen years, but clothed in rich arrange­ments by the excel­lent guest musi­cians. As such, it’s an album that’s dif­fi­cult to clas­sify, but per­haps we can go back to The Blue Nile and the awk­ward genre moniker of sophisti-pop. Although we’re three dec­ades on, and DeRosa’s album doesn’t sound like an 80s album at all, the mix of influ­ences is sort of com­par­able, and it is quite simply that: soph­ist­ic­atic pop music. So yeah, that’s a recom­mend­a­tion, folks!

Reviewed by O.S.

Track­list:

1. Birds of Brook­lyn (3:11)
2. True Men (4:07)
3. Snow Coffin (4:07)
4. Teen­age Goths (3:42)
5. Easter Parade (5:40)

6. Tat­tooed Lady’s Blues (3:39)
7. Who Decides? (3:54)
8. Don’t Say Good­night (5:21)
9. Ladies in Love (3:31)
10. Hol­low Earth The­ory (4:44)