JOE JACKSON: Rain [Rykodisc]

Joe Jackson has earned the right to the nostalgia trip he’s been on this decade, having worn many hats in his 30-year career (agitated young new waver, jump-blues bandleader, balladeer, classical composer— not to mention the reggae, Latin and jazz phases), and all of them with some degree of style. So far, the trip has produced pleasant surprises (2000’s inspired Night And Day II) and a reunion with the Joe Jackson Band lineup that didn’t live up to its punchy, nervy past (2003’s Volume 4). Rain falls squarely between the two. It’s a simple collection of typically melody-rich songs for piano, bass and drums (Jackson is backed by JJB alums Graham Maby and Dave Houghton) that occasionally swings (“The Uptown Train”) and sometimes lurches like the good old days (“King Pleasure Time”). Jackson’s ability to look at love with frayed nerves and make it sound pretty remains sharp, as evidenced on “Wasted Time.” And his voice, whether he’s singing in his bug-eyed tenor or doing the jump-and-jive falsetto thing, is in fine form. The guitar-less format tends slightly toward the cabaret over the course of 10 songs, but in reality, an electric guitar probably wouldn’t enhance these tunes all that much. Jackson devotees don’t necessarily need Rain, but they’ll want it enough. And they’ll be very satisfied with their purchase. []

—Patrick Berkery