Naïve Rock Cult Hero Jonathan Richman Comes to Cincinnati This Week to Promote His Latest Album, 'SA'

Even at his most mature, the influential singer/songwriter (who plays Thursday with longtime drum partner Tommy Larkins at Ludlow Garage) magically retains his boyish naïveté, musically primitive sophistication, old-soul wisdom and childlike wonder

Feb 26, 2019 at 10:47 am

click to enlarge Jonathan Richman - Photo: Driely S
Photo: Driely S
Jonathan Richman
If Nerd Rock could be considered a musical realm, then Jonathan Richman would be the kingdom’s crowned head. After playing out the string with his first band — wildly influential ’70s Rock group The Modern Lovers —  Richman used that ensemble’s name sporadically but essentially operated as a solo artist after the release of 1983’s Jonathan Sings! With his eponymous 1989 album, Richman officially retired the Modern Lovers moniker. Since then, he’s released 15 studio albums under his own name and became a pop culture cult hero after appearing in Farrelly brothers films like There’s Something About Mary.

Richman comes to Cincinnati Thursday (Feb. 28) for a performance at the Ludlow Garage (click here for tickets/more show info). The singer/songwriter is out touring with longtime drum partner Tommy Larkins behind his latest album, SA, his second for Cleveland-based Blue Arrow Records which was released last October.

Given Richman’s renowned sense of humor, it might have been tempting to assume his new album’s title could be read as the phonetic spelling of the word “essay,” but early press surrounding the release revealed that SA is the first root note in the Indian raga. In fact, a good many of the hypnotic melodies on SA, co-produced by Richman and former Modern Lovers bandmate Jerry Harrison, seem to originate from the Indian tradition, albeit as viewed through Richman’s profoundly whimsical or whimsically profound creative prism. Even the songs most directly drawn from that specific influence sound as though they’re being performed by a Klezmer band with a harmonium or a carnival calliope as its lead instrument.

Lyrically, several of SA’s songs are straight musical readings or interpretations of various known and unknown poets, but the rest feature Richman’s patented wide-eyed view of whatever world he’s inhabiting at the moment. And yet it’s clear that the creator of naïve Rock classics like “Roadrunner” and “I’m Straight” is five decades into a blazingly original career and looking at life from the perspective of a songwriter with more calendars behind him than ahead; as he sings toward the end of SA, “I burned in the heat of the summers of heartbreak, and heard the trees as they swayed in the wind/And now I follow the heart and have no other religion, and I do no other thing.”

Even at his most mature, with some of his best and most introspective works being produced in the new millennium, Jonathan Richman retains his boyish naïveté, his multi-octave nasality, his musically primitive sophistication, his old-soul wisdom and his childlike wonder.