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Jim DeRogatis

Lo-Fi Legend R. Stevie Moore Collaborates With Jason Falkner For An Outsider Pop Gem

Though he doubtless enjoys the stray critical praise he sometimes garners and the long-standing support he’s earned from adventurous radio—New Jersey’s legendary bastion of free-form weirdness WFMU-FM has always been a big supporter—the lo-fi home-recording pioneer and celebrated veteran of outsider music R. Stevie Moore has never really needed broader validation: He’s always seemed happy just to make a joyful noise in his own gonzo playpen, at a rate that makes the words “absurdly prolific” seem like a ridiculous understatement. (He’s issued some 400 D.I.Y. releases since 1968, according to The New York Times.)

Nevertheless, overdue validation as a twisted but tuneful pop craftsman is exactly what the son of renowned Nashville session bassist Bob Moore (Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan) gets from a reigning hero of power-pop, Jason Falkner of that genre’s heroes Jellyfish, the Three O’Clock, and the Grays, via the new collaboration Make It Be, an odd but instantly endearing pop gem forthcoming via Bar-None Records on March 10.

A big fan, Falkner opened his L.A. studio to Moore for two weeks, and it was a considerable step up from the taped-in-a-cluttered-corner settings that the latter has favored for nearly half a century. To be sure, we still get some fuzzy home-cassette strangeness—that is, unless the Brian Wilson of Bedroom Auteurs now favors a cell phone or digital recorder. But Falkner’s vaunted chops as a multi-instrumentalist, expert arranger, and studio wizard help Moore raise his game with delightfully catchy yet typically idiosyncratic tunes such as “I H8 Ppl,” “Sincero Amore,” “Play Myself Some Music,” and “If You See Kay/Run for Your Lives!”

Always an encyclopedic mixer-and-matcher of a century of pop styles, Moore gleefully jumps from Krautrock/Eurodisco to Beatles-via-XTC pop, and from Syd Barrett psychedelic folk to alternative rap, among myriad other genres, styles, and eras, most often with an unfailing ear for killer hooks paired with lyrics charting a bizarre and cranky world view that more than ever seems perfectly in tune with our times. We even get a cover of Huey Piano Smith’s “Don’t You Just Know It,” which underscores that throughout pop history, many of the weirdest but most wonderful voices have been relegated to the fringes, standing just off-stage but well deserving of their moment in the spotlight.

Maybe Moore will get his turn now; for this fan, Make It Be is his best collection since the 1984 French compilation Everything You Wanted to Know About R. Stevie Moore But Were Afraid to Ask, though I can hardly claim to have kept up with everything he’s done (who could?). Then again, part of his charm is that he probably doesn’t care, and will continue doing what he does regardless. “Sleep and eat/Love, work, and play/Another day slips away,” Falkner sings in a tune Moore wrote about his modus operandi. “Give up, go home, make out, make art/In spite of no return.” Long may he tape.

R. Stevie Moore/Jason Falkner, Make It Be (Bar/None)

Rating on the 4-star scale: 4 stars.

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