R. STEVIE MOORE – Phonography (1976)

Review by: Jeremiah Methven
Album assigned by: Andreas Georgi

This was a fun one for me, because I had never heard of R. Stevie Moore prior to being assigned this album to review. And so what you are about to read is the truest of reviews, unencumbered by popular prejudice or a numerical rating out of 15 assigned by George Starostin.

First, some background. Mr. Moore is considered an ‘outsider’ artist, having never come anywhere near a major label, and with legend stating he’s recorded over 400 albums at home that were only made available to members of his fan club. Yet in recent years, he’s been rediscovered by the indie and underground scenes and can now reasonably be viewed as an influence on the self-consciously lo-fi bands of today. His debut album/compilation Phonography (reviewed here) has now made its way to Spotify and collects recordings made between 1973 and 1976. 

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect before hearing this album – I read that he was from Nashville and his father played guitar for Elvis at one point so that made me think country. But instead the most prominent influence I hear comes from his fellow Tennesseeans Big Star, which perhaps is more logical given the point in time this was recorded. Moore’s strength as a songwriter is an uncanny knack for Big Star-esque power pop with songs like “California Rhythm” being well worthy of that group (at least with a bit more polish, perhaps).

And yet, there’s clearly more than that going on here, because it takes four tracks before we hear that ringing guitar crunch of “California Rhythm” and in that time, we get an excellent peppy guitar/keyboard instrumental (“Melbourne”), two faux-’interviews’ with Moore playing both parts of the exchange (“Explanation of Artist”/”Explanation of Listener”), and Moore singing in a rather strained falsetto over some old-timey piano (“Goodbye Piano”). It’s all clearly recorded in a home environment – with rough, crackly production and the songs feeling a bit meandering at times, but he has some definite skill as a guitarist and a good knack for pop hooks amidst the weirder trappings of the album.

That opening set of songs sets the tone for the rest of the album, which veers back and forth between non-songs (fake radio ads, talk shows) with Moore trying on a variety of weird voices, power pop, and drunken psychedelia (“I Not Listening,” “Moons”). Overall, it’s undoubtedly a unique experience as an album and although perhaps too messy for me to really love, I can’t deny that there are some really nice songs here and it’s consistently weird and entertaining throughout. I confess that the lo-fi experience is not really a plus for me – instead I find myself wondering what some of these songs would sound like with professional production. But then of course, that would undeniably lessen the novelty on display here, so perhaps I should be grateful for what I have.


Author: tomymostalas


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