The Bluff Of All Time (2005, Perilymph)
One quick glance at the yearning faces and barren tree branches on the beautifully screen-printed CD cover and I braced myself for a proper baring of one’s soul. I wasn’t led astray. Whereas Nick Jaina’s main squeeze, the Binary Dolls, is meant for maximum volume on, perhaps, a car ride to work, his solo work should be accompanied by a pack of cigarettes and your poisonous elixir of choice. The Rhodes has been traded in (for the most part) for a more rustic arrangement of violin, mandolin, acoustic guitar and accordion. Nick’s lyrical prowess is, once again, top-notch – rife with clever dialogue and stirring imagery.
Case in point, see the bitter ‘Conquering Hero Returns’ where Jaina remembers moments of a relationship gone awry with these lines – ‘they would lay it on you, even while it bleeds, you with the harvest and I with the weeds’. Religious convictions are questioned on the sparse ‘If I Were To Make Things Right With Jesus’ – ‘would he polish what was mine? would he make my trumpet shine?’ Nick’s vocals may, at times, make strict pop enthusiasts cringe and cry ‘foul!’. His frail, often off-key, delivery in ‘The Rhythm Of The Wrecking Ball’ is one example though the song is bouyed up with the gentle sway of the song, fragile mandolin and drowsy background vocals.
Jaina does well to prove he’s no one-trick pony. The too-short, mournful dirge, ‘O Death’, sounds like it could be a converted sea chantey passed down from generation to generation of shiphands. The weeping violin alone was enough to raise the hairs on the back of my neck. Nick croons ‘no steak and eggs, no porcelain, just the mercy of his arms’ in the opening, accordion-driven ‘The Mercy Of His Arms’. The violin creeps in again on the slow shuffler, ‘Dirty Heart’, the album’s finest moment. Trumpet appears on the slow, wistful jazz of ‘The Way Things Are These Days’. Harmonica opens the most ‘upbeat’ number on the album, ‘Bottles On The Tracks’, displaying a more playful side musically – even if the song is awash with pain and regret.
Jaina’s strengths are openly exposed for all to see on The Bluff Of All Time whereas his work with the Binary Dolls was a bit more mysterious, cryptic, if you will. Each and every song on the album has its own individual charm and amazingly, considering the ground covered, its fairly cohesive. I never got the feeling these songs were just scraps left over from any of his other projects. A damn shame this will likely not create a ripple on the scene, it’s worth the price of admission for the artwork alone.