Reasons to Rejoice: ‘Slower’ and the Ongoing Phenomenon of Jules Shear

“I used to think no one could catch me
But now I’m slower…”

from “Slower” by Jules Shear

Videos by American Songwriter

Jules Shear, Slower
Artwork by Ron Hart

Today’s reason to rejoice: Slower. It’s the most recent song cycle from the great Jules Shear, a songwriter whose work since his 1983 debut has been a shining symbol of the power, persistence and poignancy of melodic and lovingly-inspired songwriting artistry. Since I first heard “Whispering Your Name” on his Jules’ 1983 Todd-Rundgren-produced debut album Watchdog, I was hooked for life. Here was a guy absolutely in love with song, and its endless potential. It’s a love injected melodically and lyrically into every song and album he’s done since. 

Jules is a songwriter’s songwriter’s songwriter. A rare distinction. We used to call him a songwriter’s songwriter – which means a songwriter other songwriters revere. But hearing so many of these songwriter’s songwriters testify to their great love of Jules, we had to amend his designation to songwriter’s songwriter’s songwriter. And which, now published, is official. Lest anyone worry too long about the potential extinction of melody in songs, listen to any song on any Jules album. Not only are these songs are generously melodic, they are tuneful in a deep, visceral way, always reaching for the heart,

He is a songwriter who has been connecting with the joy of songwriting through the decades, since back in the 80s when Cyndi Lauper had one of her first hits with his song “All Through The Night” (also covered by The Cars), and other great Jules songs emerged, including The Bangles in 1986 with “If She Knew What She Wants,” Alison Moyet’s 1994 record of his “Whispering Your Name.” And others.

But as we evoted Jules fans know, as cool as those records are, nothing compares with his own version of his songs. His singing, that familiar, friendly voice full of yearning, is so visceral and powerful when delivering us one of his classic melodies, whether it’s “Trap Door” or “Healing Bones,” which he wrote with the late Rick Danko, that nothing else suffices in the same way.

And every couple of years or so he releases a new album of beautifully realized songs, always with glorious melodics and lyrical journeys of every kind, as he did most recently with Slower, released at the end of 2020.

As with any of his albums, it’s a collection of stunning songs. Received in this day and age, they are great reasons to rejoice. Especially because this album, released in 2020, came into our world at the most hopeless time, the sorrowful season of lockdown, when nothing more than despair was expected. On national house-arrest came this unexpected beam of light: a new album from Jules, called Slower. I put it on and was immediately struck by wonder and delight. I was so impressed and grateful that even in this strange new world that Jules was there, waiting for us with a gift.

I also felt the same way I felt about Peter Case’s most recent album, Highway 62, and also Joe Henry’s Gospel According To Water. These are some of the strongest albums ever by these guys who have written great songs for a long time. Part of me felt like nobody had told them it didn’t have to be this good anymore. And I hoped nobody would.

Jules, on Slower, and on all his albums,. whether solo or with bands (Funky Kings, Reckless Sleepers)  is a great reason to rejoice, because his connection with the real joy of songwriting is never in short supply. You can hear in the writing of his songs, in his playful, ingenious lyrics, in his gorgeous melodies, in his grooves, phrasing, chord changes and how they all come together, that this is a guy who loves writing songs.

It’s a dynamic that can’t be faked. It’s undeniable.Starting with the delightfully sweet “Sugar All Day,” we are welcomed into a songwriter’s sanctum of secret joy, where he writes songs which resound like standards. This is one. The poignant tune, wed to his gentle imagery, love of fresh metaphors and delightful linguistics, is as good as it gets.  

Somewhere between here and now
You  found a place to play
And you just sit around
And eat sugar all day 

from “Sugar All Day”
By Jules Shear

There are all gems among gems. Always the melodies and chords are unexpected and great, united by his loving songwriting spirit. 

“Between Heaven and Hell” has a verse which is musically stark, evoking the unresolved tension of everyday life, until a chorus which is essentIal Jules lifts up everything.

“Feels Like Fall” is a brand-new classic. It’s delightfully ripe with gorgeous melody merged with lyrics surprising in their fusion of colloquial candor and poignant poetics. 

I knew better and I knew it didn’t count
So I messed up
I screwed around
Faked the real meaning
Let it all go by
Finally I’m left wondering why

Let it all gone by
Finally I’m left wondering why
It feels like fall
And it’s spring

From “Feels Like Fall” by Jules Shear

If only for this song, this would be a good reason to rejoice. But it’s only one among the remarkably expansive and seriously inspirarional songbook – which is still under construction – by our friend Jules. To whom we have real gratitude for the work you’ve done. You’ve already written way more amazing songs than almost all humans ever.

But we want more! Don’t stop! We love you.

For more Jules, see:
Behind the Song: Healing Bones
Behind the Song: Whispering Your Name
Behind the Album: One More Crooked Dance
Reasons to Rejoice: An Introduction

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