CD Reviews

FJAERE: The Last of the Cartoon Vagabonds

There is a sensation you get when you take your first bite of fresh-from-the-oven peach cobbler à la mode—the kind with vanilla ice cream served warm—the delightful feel of hot and cool, the sweet crust and ice cream melt deliciously in your mouth and soothe your soul. You know you’ll be back for more. This is what a first listen to singer-songwriter and performance artist Fjaere’s new album, Last of the Cartoon Vagabonds, is like.

The album, to be released on October 3, is an impossible-to-pin-down-into-a safe-genre collection of songs that runs through moods as varied as ecstasy, sorrow, compassion, and silliness, with profound insightful poetic musings all wrapped up in a danceable, joyous celebration of what it means to be the odd person out, the colorful misfit and the passionate, joy-filled original soul. This is the meaning that runs through this fresh, bright and thoroughly entertaining album from this gifted Scottish transplant to America. The United Kingdom’s loss is a genuine gift to the U.S.A. She drinks from the same well that has quenched Kate Bush, Sandy Denny, and Patti Smith, if they found their funny bone and danced away giggling into the night.

The album was created at home during the Pandemic of 2020-21. Fjaere has allowed her creative freedom to flow and to run free in her imagination and onto this record. The album production does not sound like a domestic recording. The pop-rock-folk-jazzy 12-song collection is as professional and clean as one could hope for in a modern rock record. While playing most of the instruments herself, she is given tasty support from Frankie Mooney on sax, Adam Steinberg, and Jamie Douglass on drums.

Each song is a gem, illuminating the ways we find the fullness of life while celebrating our differences and discovering joy in the moment. The opening song, “Lonely Lumination,” looks at the lighter side of unrequited love with a happy melody that breaks the usual sadness associated with the subject and answers it with curiosity and love. Following the theme of the outsider in her lyrics and melodies, “I Guess We All Get Blue” provides a look at the unsuspectingly ironic lighter side of feeling blue. It’s like the shadow side of Paul Simon’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song.” Only here, the narrator imagines herself at a bridge with suicidal intent for her broken heart. It is an image that is shrugged off in the chorus and title of the song. Each song explores the moods and feelings that come with curiosity and imagination of an outsider looking in, including “Private Eyes,” “Trace,” “Caught in the Sway,” and “Pyro’s Heart.” The final, title song, “The Last of the Cartoon Vagabonds,” ties the collection together with insights into the acceptance and even celebration of our personal oddities. It is the ultimate anthem for the misfit in us all.

The Last of the Cartoon Vagabonds is one of the best new releases of 2021, which crosses genre boundaries. As an independent release, word-of-mouth may be critical to its commercial success. This album is worthy of a focused, thorough listen by anyone who loves music that matters… and then it dares to be shared with friends and family and, indeed, the known universe.

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