Jake La Botz
They’re Coming for Me
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Some artists make a splash with their debut album, then for various reasons seem to lose steam as their careers progress. Jake La Botz is just the opposite.
The singer-songwriter and actor (he had a recurring small role in The Gilmore Girls among other parts) and playwright (currently penning a show about his life) has been cranking out albums every few years since his 1999 debut which was tellingly titled Original Soundtrack to My Nightmare. Eight impressive but under-the-radar releases later, he again hooks up with J.D. McPherson bassist Jimmy Sutton (who helmed 2017’s Sunnyside, the first album he didn’t record in about a day) for what is not only his finest, but most focused set yet.
It’s tough to pigeonhole La Botz’s sound as anything other than somewhat vague Americana. There are enough elements of blues to even call him a bluesman. But low key gospel, folk, country and rockabilly tug his quirky, generally acoustic music into other genres. There are echoes of Dan Hicks, Harry Nilsson, Leon Redbone and early Tom Waits to his style. Your mileage may vary yet no one quite sounds like him, especially on this often wildly diverse disc.
La Botz’s natural storytelling streak shines through these dozen cuts. Mixed with his boyish, sometimes slyly devilish, vocals there is a slight, natural retro approach to some of these songs, one that never feels forced. He shifts from a subtle, gentle break-up lament like “Are We Saying Goodbye?” (“Nobody’s gonna take my hand like you do”) to a wildly outrageous off-the-wall spoken word over funky piano riffed “Hey Bigfoot” (La Botz takes the voice of the titular character singing “Papa needs a new pair of Bigfoot shoes”) that sounds like a mix of Dr. John and Frank Zappa at his most doo-wop. “Nashville, Nashville” is a mid-tempo, pop-ish biting ode to his current home town as he sings “You’re not country, you’re not rock and roll/Too arty for the blues and too dark for folk/Uh huh and your pop songs are really a joke.” He’s probably singing from personal experience.
On the more serious selections such as the waltz-timed “Grave of the Leaves” where he sings “We all face a fall just as soon as we breathe/But the saddest thing of all is the time I spent with you,” La Botz’s voice is homey and sympathetic, spinning the intimate story as if he’s alone with no one listening.
But you’re more likely to focus on his more oblique, humorous material like the opening paranoid title track sung from the voice of a criminal on the run. There are also elements of tropicalia on the bizarre, stream of consciousness “Johnnybag the Superglue” (“Living in a bubble that you blew back in school/Now you want to use the gum to fix a hole in your shoe”).
It’s surely a mixed bag but in a creative way where Sutton’s subtle and layered production pulls you into each tune. He adds just enough mojo to La Botz’s already idiosyncratic persona to qualify this as the singer’s best album, even with—or perhaps because of– its many offbeat qualities. Hopefully it’s the one to finally get La Botz the recognition he deserves. If not, you get the sense there will be many more.