It’s hard to dig up history on singer-songwriter-guitarist Joel Schaan, and getting him to respond to interview requests is an exercise in futility (which may’ve been a requirement for his joining Afro-Cuban rockers New Primitives; just try getting band founders Stan Kipper and Chico Perez to stand still long enough to answer a few questions). I was able to unearth that he has an association with the band Test Site 67. And he did, after a few weeks of follow-up, give me a copy of his solo album Acoustic.
You can catch Schaan any Thursday, when New Primitives hold forth with their weekly, pile-driving set at Nye’s in Minneapolis. Odds are, he’ll do his fine rendition of Captain Beefheart’s enduring chestnut “Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up.” Elsewise, put Acoustic on your gift-giving list. For anyone on your list who enjoys tightly crafted songwriting, get the disc, put some pretty paper on it, and hand it to them with a big old Kool-Aid smile.
Joel Schaan’s Acoustic delivers a well-done taste of Delta blues, blended with Dust Bowl soul. Take lead cut “Ain’t That Alright,” elemental funk to a tee. Plaintive melody, stark vocal over percussive chording. “She must love her mama/ Got her on her wall/ Smell like springtime/ Look like fall/ Got a bad reputation/ Keep me runnin’ hot/ While she smile so cold/ Ain’t that alright.” It can’t be said of this man that he’s short on passion. Schaan truly comes from the heart. “Not Enough” and “One More Day” follow in a list of tunes that, each and every one of them, all are about breaking it down to the bone, sparsely arranged, coming through with inspired skill.
It’s not difficult to see why Kipper saw Schaan as a good fit for New Primitives. The band stands on the basics, bringing it from the fundamentals. Joel Schaan does that very well.
Other recommended stocking stuffers: Alicia Wiley’s Halfway Home for lovers of jazz-influenced pop, The New Congress’s Anguish, Love & Romance for fans of R&B rock, and brand-new discs by pop siren Erica West (Erica West Live) and hip-hop goddess Desdamona (Inklng). Hard to go wrong.