Richard X. Heyman is unquestionably a legend. He was one of the first “one man band” recording artists, in the grand tradition of Paul McCartney, Emitt Rhodes and Todd Rundgren. Critical praise began with the release of his first album Living Room, which Rolling Stone magazine proclaimed “an undiscovered treasure.” All Music Guide called him “perhaps America’s greatest unsung hero of power pop, a songwriter of uncommon talent and intelligence and a one-man rock band without peer”. And he’s been cranking out great records for as long as I can remember – I bought his first single, “Vacation”, when I saw it on the wall of Golden Disc (Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village, that is) in 1980 or early 1981. So should it be any surprise that his latest – his 12th album – Incognito is filled with those pop gems, filled with color and melody? None whatsoever. It should be listened to and absorbed immediately.
Just listen to the shimmering opening of the title cut, which begins this 14-track collection. His voice is as fine and strong as ever; the production is crisp and works perfectly in giving this song life – that cascading guitar is, in a word, magnificent and chill-inducing. The uptempo, reverb-wash of “And Then” is a perfect melding of what we’ve come to love about The Feelies and R.E.M.; the harmonies are glorious and the guitar nuances are just right; the acoustic-driven stomper “Gleam” could easily be played on any radio station (love the backing vocals) and the keyboard-based, gospel-tinged “In Our Best Interest” packs an emotional punch that can’t be understated (think “Ballad Of El Goodo”). “Her Garden Path” is “clasic Heyman” – that 12-string Ric chime with a heaviness that rocks the pop – Heyman at his best, frankly; the heartbreak and drama in the feel of “These Troubled Times” makes this one track to focus on – a serious message that should make you think and the Byrds-yness of “Miss Shenandoah Martin” is simply another showcase piece not to be overlooked.
Every Richard X. Heyman album is, for all intents and purposes, a treat. His last album, X, was a favorite of mine in 2013; this album takes the beauty of that record one step further. Whether its with the equally-legendary Doughboys or as a self-contained recording unit, Richard X. Heyman makes the kind of music you should want to make yourself. And if you can’t, he’s here to do it for us all.
Incognito is currently available