Hey, welcome to my "guide" to a few of my favorite rock and pop records. This isn't a definitive list, by any means, just some random comments about a few records that have stood out over the years, or that I've found the time to review.
This page covers the letter "J"
Jesus And Mary Chain - see my Scottish pop guide
Freedy Johnston "Never Home" (Elektra, 1997)
People told me for years that I "should really check Freedy Johnston out...!" Listeners and close acquaintances would tell me that because I like acoustic music and melodic pop, friends who knew I grew up in Lawrence, Kansas would say so because he was the big hometown hero in the 1990s. This is the first album of his that I ever listened to, and indeed it's pretty stellar. Johnston has a fabulous sense of pop structure, and can write an irresistable hook like nobody's business. There are several songs on here that I find hard to get out of head head once I hear them. Also, his lyrics are really skillful, particularly his intriguing character sketches, which are built up out of odd, allusions and unlikely stream-of-consciousness imagery. Before this, Freedy doesn't seem to have had such a keen sense of melody, afterwards he got a little too bleak and morose. But if you don't mind mildly-corporatized indierock that has a noticable debt to '70s pop such as the Eagles or Jackson Browne, then this is a great record to try out. I dig it.
Freedy Johnston "Right Between The Promises" (Elektra, 2001)
A nice return to form, in a way. Folks bailed out on Freedy in droves when he went from radio-friendly, super-hooky tunesmithing to dark, dense, downer-pop. Now he's back to catchy, captivating melodies, with his patented youthful vocals. I can't understand what any of the songs are about, but it doesn't seem to matter. I just like listening to the record. You might, too!
Damien Jurado "Waters Ave. S" (SubPop, 1997)
Although SubPop has been broadening its scope for much the better part of the last decade, few of their post-grunge popsters have been as captivating as the moody, mystically morose Damien Jurado. Here he strikes a perfect balance between unsettling autobiographical tunes and bouncy pop hooks, a mix that he apparently disowns (saying that he was trying too hard to be accessible and catchy...) Personally, I don't give a damn how he feels about the album -- I think it's great. Sure, songs like "Space Age Mom" are gimmicky novelties (and is that really so bad?), but "Sarah," the album's next-to-the-last track is a really amazing songwriting gem. Jurado captures a moment, a mood, in the day-to-day melancholy of romance that ranks right up there with the best of the old European art films. Even if this were the only good song he ever wrote, it would be enough for me to keep him in my personal best-of list.
Damien Jurado "Ghost of David" (SubPop, 2000)
Musically speaking, this is Jurado's starkest album, full of beautiful, bare-boned melodies played on piano and guitar, as well as eerie, waveringly shrill keyboards, and Jurado's distinctively hushed, stream-of-consciousness storytelling. The lyrical content is unusually harrowing, ranging from a childhood tale of electroshock and institutionalization ("Medication") to the cheerfully funereal, Carter Family-styled folk ballad, "Rosewood Casket," which signals the coming end. How much of Jurado's work draws from real life and how much is literary pales in comparison to its emotional impact. His whispering, abjectly human, vocals suggest an all-knowing narrator, emotionally scarred yet psychically insulated from the bleakness he relates. Sounds grim, but Jurado's quiet grace carries the day, distracting and comforting the listener with a skillful, Nick Drake-like softness, one-two punched with canny pop hooks. It's possible that Jurado is falling into the Richard Buckner trap of "I-am-an-artiste-of-great-merit," but so far he's avoided becoming too stuffy or self-important. Hopefully he can keep it up!