Last year’s superb Perpetual Motion People album deservedly raised Ezra Furman‘s profile and catapulted him further into the public’s consciousness. He has consolidated his position this year with celebratory and incendiary live shows with his band The Boyfriends, and a neat Record Store Day E.P. (Songs By Others), featuring seven cover versions, one from each decade from the 1950s to whatever this present one is called.
So, to the latest EF release, Big Fugitive Life. Furman describes the E.P. as a group of ‘favourite orphaned songs’ that were actually meant for previous albums. This record is far from sounding like an ‘odds and sods’ collection, though, and is split into two distinct halves: the louder, faster stuff on Side 1 and three acoustic tracks on Side 2.
‘Teddy I’m Ready’ kicks off the E.P. and will be familiar to anyone who has seen Furman’s recent shows. The song builds slowly from strummed electric guitar and vocals into an a sumptuous track where some excellent backing vocals and saxophone combine to compliment Furman’s quite impassioned vocal. It sounds like the 1950s and it sounds like 2016 all at once.
‘Halley’s Comet’ is another highly commercial track that would have worked well as a non-album single, but the pick of the first side is the brief-and-brilliant ‘Little Piece Of Trash’ which perfectly showcases Furman’s winning way with a lyric: “I’m going downtown, where nobody wants to know your name” being one such example. The track is the most unhinged here and captures that Furman live spirit perfectly.
The second half of the E.P. loses the playfulness and explores Furman’s ‘troubled mind’ (his words!) by way of voice and acoustic guitar. ‘Penetrate’ could be a lost Johnny Cash or George Jones song, while ‘Splash Of Light’ has an almost Christmassy feel and wouldn’t sound out of place on one of the festive Sufjan Stevens offerings.
The record ends with ‘The Refugee’, a really touching song concerning Furman’s Jewish background, and is dedicated to his grandfather who fled the Nazis. It reaches out to the refugees of today and contrasts hugely with the earlier songs, using strings really effectively to punctuate the waltz-like ode to the world’s wanderers.
Big Fugitive Life will do nicely until the next Ezra Furman album proper comes along. An intriguing snapshot of an artist at the peak of his powers.