Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman offers his insights, opinions, and observations about the local scene. This week: Jim Wurster returns with his boldest effort yet.
Jim Wurster can claim credit as one of South Florida's most original musicians, not simply because he possesses a singular sound but, more important, because he continually ventures into new terrain and does so without regard to commercial consequences.
Beginning with his tenure at the helm of the goth-like band Black Janet and continuing through his stint with the Atomic Cowboys, a series of rootsy ruminations on his own, and a one-off collaboration with the Skyrider Band, Wurster has eschewed any need for fashion or frenzy in pursuit of his muse.
Currently referring to himself simply as Wurster, the Broward native is preparing for the imminent release of his latest album, Raw, an apt title considering the set's stripped-down feel. However, don't be tricked into thinking this is some kind of exercise in sleepy acoustic balladry. In fact, it's infused with eerie effects and electronic drones seemingly at odds with the laid-back motif.
A mix of Wurster originals and eclectic covers -- Neil Young's "Southern Pacific," Sonny and Cher's "Bang Bang," Fred Neil's "Dade County Jail," the Doors' "Riders on the Storm," and perhaps strangest of all, a medley that combines "Ain't No Sunshine" and "You Are my Sunshine" -- the songs take a decidedly dark turn in unexpected ways. Wurster's voice recalls a sinister mashup of Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, and Lou Reed during a midnight encounter hosted by Nick Cave, while the stark setups lend the proceedings an ominous air.
While the net effect is certainly striking, there's a practical purpose to these unadorned arrangements. "Actually, I first tried this out so that I could do some solo touring in Nashville and out on the West Coast," Wurster commented in a news release. "Then people started coming up to me intrigued by what I was playing. It made me realize that I was able to express the lyrical content of my work through these different kinds of sounds, as well as through my voice."
Raw took shape from there. "All my parts were recorded live and simultaneously," Wurster explains in the liner notes. "I wanted to reproduce my acoustic show as closely as possible. Most songs were recorded in one or two takes. They are not flawless, and there are no overdubs on my part." That's not to say he lacked assistance. Vinnie Fonatana pitches in on bass, Daphna Rose supplies vocals, Omine Edgar can be heard on vocals and 12-string, Mile Vullo plays drums, and Chris DeAngelis contributes stand-up bass. The album was produced, recorded, engineered, and mastered by Bob Wlos.
What's most interesting overall is that despite the disparity of the material, the themes all find a similar focus, one having to do with the turmoil, tragedy, and uncertainty that affects our everyday lives. "Dade County Jail" and "Riders on the Storm" play perfectly into those themes, despite a vintage that goes back several decades. On the other hand, "Bang Bang" is transformed from the symbolic description of a shattered relationship to a literal narrative about the terror of vengeance and violence. More surprising still, the aforementioned "Sunshine Medley" is anything but sunny; Wurster's interpretation of these popular standards turns on a dark edge and a sinister syntax that's formidable and foreboding.
Some may find the results disconcerting, and it's really no wonder why. The soundscapes are unusual to say the least and sometimes distract from Wurster's delivery. Happily, though, Wurster's bold reputation remains intact.
Wurster will celebrate the release of Raw, his 13th studio album, with a party at Luna Star Café, 775 NE 125th St., North Miami, on Friday, January 17. Admission is free. Call 305-799-7123.