another nice review of the "Best of..." CD, courtesy of the Phantom Tollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth is an online magazine that has been giving me nice reviews ever since the Recital album a decade ago. I just discovered yet another review that they've written regarding my most recent release The Best of Jonathan Rundman: 20 Songs from the 20th Century. Thanks, as always, Tollboothers, for the support!

My favorite part of the review is the comparison between "The 'Con' Prefix Song" and "Mediate" by INXS....brilliant! I had never thought of it that way before, but they do have a common vibe. I always loved that INXS tune, and its merger with "Need You Tonight." I'm also thrilled to have my song "Soluble" mentioned in the press for the first time! It's one of Dawn's favorite tunes, but it's certainly one of my least accessible. "I met the queen, down by the castle gate..." I've got to try to play that one live with a band.

Just to clarify, there are a couple corrections I need to make to the content of the following review, and there's a concern I need to address:

+ Bruce Rundman is my cousin, not my brother. Tim Rundman is my brother. I know it's confusing...we're like the Osmonds. Or the Osbournes.

+ "The Bass Guitar Song" actually name checks Aimee Mann and Michael Been (he's the bassist for The Call, one of the greatest bands ever). Although Aimee Mann and Michael Penn would be a nice pairing, since they're married, and Penn's a decent bassist as well.

+ The reviewer wonders about the song "Carol of the Bells," and if it should have been included. "Carol" was written and recorded in 2000 for the album Sound Theology, so it's not part of the era represented on the album. I know that, technically, 2000 was the last year of the twentieth century, but for the sake of numerical similarities, I have grouped that album with anything I record in the 2000s....the twenty-first century. So, have no fear, Brian! In 92 years when I release my Best of the 21st Century CD, "Carol of the Bells" will be included!

+ One final correction: the Tollbooth webpage lists this review of the Best of album on a page for Protestant Rock Ethic reviews, which is why I didn't notice it until now! Click here to see the review on the Phantom Tollbooth site, or read the text below:


rating: 4.5 stars

Indie songwriter Jonathan Rundman meanders through the earlier part of his career, and his pleasantly nasal vocals, as always, range in the familiar Minnesota territory of Bob Dylan and Paul Westerberg, mixed with Neil Young. Tom Petty, and Elvis Costello. In short, Rundman is the cousin of the Traveling Wilburys, twice removed, the one who didn't make it to either recording session and was replaced by Jeff Lynne.

"Tape," a Rundman standard, leads off, recalling the glory days of the mix tape, and claiming its superiority to that of compact disc or vinyl. "Meeting Nixon" is a 90's alt rock rave, and "Janesville" is a wistful song touching on a Wisconsin city. Relationships are examined in "Ask Me in Nebraska" and "Nothing Old, Nothing New" (which contrasts gentrification with failing love), while "Only If" ends one. "Continental Divide" is a fun rocker with Rundman's brother Bruce guesting.

Guesting is a common trait of Rundman's projects. Labelmate Beki Hemingway appears on "No More Walls", while Bruce Rundman shows up on three tracks. Dag Juhlin (Slugs, among others) adds guitar to "Only If", and musical savant Matt Patrick (Sara Groves, solo work) appears on several other songs. Meanwhile, Rundman himself plays a number of instruments, including trash cans and plastic spoons on "Front Row at the Fashion Show".

Storytelling with a bit of tongue in cheek irony is a gift of Rundman's. "The Con Prefix Song," reminiscent of INXS' "Mediate," is built around a grammatical hook, yet remains coherent. "My Helen" is a Cliff Notes version of Edgar Allen Poe's writings in three and a half minutes. "Brad N.," a tale of a local boy, is Rundman's "Jeremy" (Pearl Jam). "The Princess Wants to Spend Her Time With Me" is a poke at social castes, or is it?

The bonus disc, Myopia, sounds a bit more dated, and features a few earlier versions of songs included on the first disc. "The Bass Guitar Song" name checks Michael Penn and Aimee Mann, and the "Sick of Eric Blues" excoriates the influence and ubiquity of Eric Clapton. Recorded between 1991 and 1998, you can hear Rundman exploring different areas musically, but he still usually comes back to Tom Petty/Soul Asylum vocals, with a dash of Neil Young thrown in, especially on "Soluble."

With forty songs and almost three hours worth of music, the fan gets more than they bargain for in this collection. Still, it never feels like three hours. The trademark humor, and heartfelt songwriting that characterize Rundman's career to date are present and in fine form. My only question is wondering when the song "Carol of the Bells" was written. If it was before 2000, its omission is a glaring error.

Brian A. Smith
21 October 2007


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