Joe Jackson, "Rain" (Ryko)
Joe Jackson has never been afraid to experiment.
Throughout his long career, he's embraced music styles outside his comfort zone " even at the expense of selling records. He covered swing on "Jumping Jive," wrote the instrumental "Will Power," and dabbled in jazz and salsa on "Body and Soul." Along the way he's created great music, angered some record companies, and attracted a small but loyal fan base.
On his latest album, "Rain," Jackson opts for a bare-bones approach with just piano, bass, and drums. He's joined by longtime band mates, bassist Graham Maby and drummer Dave Houghton. Both have played with him for the better part of 30 years. Noticeably absent, however, is guitarist Gary Sanford.
The record's vibe is distinctly Jackson, but not his post-punk work like "Look Sharp." There's not a guitar to be heard on this one; instead the songs have a jazzy pop feel reminiscent of his earlier work on the 1982 album, "Night and Day," though the songs are not as radio-friendly.
While more album-oriented, "Rain" offers 10 nicely crafted mid-tempo ballads that makes the most of this scaled-down ensemble. No accident there. Many of them have been played in concert over his last couple of tours, but have never been recorded until now.
"Wasted Time," tells the story of a failed relationship that harkens back to his hit, "Breaking Us in Two." Then there's "King Pleasure Time" which has the feel of another older song, "Memphis." Throughout most of the disc, Jackson tinkers the ivories at times sounding like he scoring the next Charlie Brown special. But he gets funky on "The Uptown Train," and intimately poetic on "Solo."
The result is mostly impressive. Airy musical passages live and breath in most of the songs, as does his distinct, sometime falsetto, vocals. While it's not his greatest work, it's certainly notable.
CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: The absence of guitar doesn't stop Jackson from rocking out on "Citizen Sane," one of the battle-tested tracks on the album. He's performed it on stage since 2004.