JEFFREY JOE: Don’t Get to Know Me
Mortality is a bitch. Not only is our time on this planet far too fleeting, attachments get formed (if you’re lucky), and when those bonds are broken by the inevitable, it can be a tremendous strain on the heart.
For those who knew Jeffrey Joe Morin before his untimely passing on 07.17.17, his second compact disc will most certainly double as a sonic salve to ease the pain of his physical absence. Don’t Get to Know Me is a true labor of love that transcends cliques and fashion, and somehow manages to capture his immense spirit. Recorded by Jeff Berkley and Ben Moore, there are musical friends in abundance, producing a gorgeous backdrop of texture and emotion behind Morin’s sublime, deadpan vocals, studied finger-picking, and gutbucket harmonica. There is a self-effacing pathos to Jeffrey Joe’s delivery that is at times unbearably vulnerable, similar to what makes listening to Randy Newman so fantastically appealing. When he opens his mouth I feel like he’s on the next barstool, confiding in me with all of his woes and insecurities laid bare. He pours his heart out to you not because he wants to, but because he has to.
The ten songs within contain four Morin originals, with six standards masterfully interpreted from the Great American Songbook. Morin makes “Night and Day” and “Young at Heart” truly his own. But on the title track he jokes about dying at any minute (“because I’m real old, you know”), dropping “like a sack of spuds.” It’s all so tongue-in-check, but WTF does it mean when you hear someone joking so boldly about their own mortality, and now the only way to experience the artist is in the posthumous slight of hand that technology affords? Is this supposed to be ironic? These songs are the product of a guy with a wicked sense of (black) humor. Jeffrey Joe laughs in the face of death, and cries about the joy (and the pain) of being alive. He seems to be making peace with the rules of the game by acknowledging how transitory existence is in this great big bag of bones. Still, the pathos returns time and again over these 45 minutes; one song after another delivered with a heartbreaking tenderness that would make Chet Baker keel over and weep.
Perhaps the most affecting performance on the album is “A Sunny Riverside,” a murder ballad that Morin says took “45 years in the writing! The worst beautiful day in my life.” It’s a stunner, and the character that Morin embodies makes me wish that he had written a whole lot more in this vein. Don’t Get to Know Me closes with a beautiful reading of “What a Wonderful World,” (“After the previous tune, this one seemed necessary,” writes Morin), with lovely harmonies by Steph Johnson. It’s one of the greatest affirmations in the history of popular music, and guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye. Jeffrey Joe lives on, and despite the sarcasm of the title, you absolutely can and should get to know him. He is a one-off, true-blue original sweetheart of an artist.