To call Block a singer-songwriter is to underestimate the importance of storytelling in his songs. Influenced by the Beat poets, he tells stories of Village gentrification, fake punk rockers and the illusion of an easy marriage songs with lyrics that ring true because of Block’s own life experience.
He emerged from the anti-folk scene in New York’s East Village. His first album, 1996′s Lead Me Not Into Penn Station, met with acclaim at college radio and in the indie music community. Producer Glen Ballard (Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill) chose Block to be the first artist released on Java Records joint venture with Capitol Records in 1998. That album, 2000s Timing Is Everything, featured the tune Catch A Falling Star the opening credit song for Drew Barrymore’s film Never Been Kissed. When Blocks major label debut sold a paltry 100,000 copies he was unceremoniously dropped by Java, having successfully demonstrated that he would not be their next big thing.
Without a record label and beyond his 20s, Block had a decision to make: continue to plug away on his own dime as an indie artist or quit music altogether. He chose the latter. “I quit because I reached the place where all of your dreams are supposed to come true. When Java dumped me I was 32 years old with a wife and two kids. I had to make money. The music business had vampired the life out of me. I left, thinking that I’d never return.”
Block reinvented himself, morphing into Jamie Block, Vice President of Investments at a major financial firm. “Wall Street was a whole new life. Not even my peers knew that I had been a career musician. I didn’t even listen to music anymore. It pained me, but I didn’t want to know what was new or happening.”
Fast-forward to a rainy morning, seven years later: suburbanite Jamie Block, comfortable in his fancy car, triple latte in hand. “I was driving to work at 6am in the dark, listening to WFUV,” he recounts, “and the great deejay Claudia Marshall played my tune ‘Catch A Falling Star’ (from Timing Is Everything). When the song ended, she asked, Where did you go, Block? Please phone home. So he did what anyone would do I picked up my cell phone and called her!
Block knew he still had some songs inside him. He decided to record a few, just for the fun of it, with no one to please but himself. In this fashion, Block and engineer Mark Hutchins co-produced The Last Single Guy, a new album true to Blocks legacy of wry, literate and occasionally heartbreaking tales of modern, urban life. Block has reemerged for the simplest reason: he loves making music.
The Last Single Guy shows that he never lost his touch. There’s the lament of Ave. A in which that famed East Village streets once-bohemian culture has turned into a punk theme park. There’s the young man in A Sweet Potato Pie with a wife and family at home who still craves the edge of a little drugs and sleaze that he finds in a strip joint. And then theres the invocation of A Color of Heaven, in which Block sings with a universality and compassion that makes this song his most moving to date: In the Chinese shadow / Of the wild America / In the staggering heat of the day / We will all be standing / In the power and the glory / At least I hope so someday.
This album demonstrates an attention to contemporary rhythms that is rare for an artist with folk music roots. The beats complement the lyrics, adding modern groove and syncopation to Block’s lurid tales. In Molly Malone the rhythm section is propulsive and fluid, setting a foundation for the guitar and other instruments to build upon, with each adding its own, distinct coloring. Flugelhorn, Jew’s harp, banjo, drum machines and an occasional full horn section complement layered guitars, piano, Blocks buzzsaw baritone vocals and his ever-incisive lyrics, making this comeback CD the best Block album ever.
He may have been gone for years, but Block is back, wiser and more insightful for what he’s lived and who hes become. He reflects, “It’s fun this time. I’m not trying to be a rock star and the songs on The Last Single Guy were written and recorded in that spirit.” WFUV deejay (and fan) Rita Houston concludes, “Block quit and went away. Perhaps because he went away, these songs turned out the way they did.”