No one spins a good tale like singer/songwriter Jacob Haller, who just released Circumstantial Evidence, the follow-up his '09 solo debut Mistaken Identity (both available at jacobhaller.bandcamp.com). Haller's silly, skewed, and neurotic (and brutally catchy) storytelling and subject matter are all over the place — in a good way — on Circumstantial Evidence, having invariably benefited from his longtime membership with the Rhode Island Songwriters Association. Hell, two years later, a handful of hooks from Mistaken Identity still won't leave my head (goddamn you, "Watching Killer Robots Eat Your Head" and "Adorable Kittens"!).
The multi-instrumentalist, who plays guitar, organ and piano, and accordion on the album, recruited longtime friend and collaborator Chris Monti (the two co-founded blues crew the Killdevils), Jack Hanlon, some sousaphone action courtesy of Daniel Schleifer, and trombonist Pamela Murray of Superchief Trio. Haller also lined up a full-time band in drummer Joe Auger and guitarist/vocalist Natalie Markward (also of Anne's Cordial); Jacob Haller & the Running Commentary will headline their CD release party this week at AS220.
Haller's big-hearted support of the local music community generated good karma — he received plenty of Kickstarter donations for the new disc, which was recorded at Machines with Magnets. And local artist CW Roelle traded CD cover artwork for some of Haller's knitted dinosaurs (one of the exclusive Kickstarter rewards Haller offered).
"I've been knitting since I was a kid, and I've been a member of a local knitting group for about seven years now," Haller informed me when we caught up earlier this week. Fellow open mic participants shouldn't be offended if they spot Haller crocheting away. "If I like a performer, that's great, and if their music doesn't really grab me then, well . . . either way I've gotten some knitting done," he said.
There's a little bit of everything on Circumstantial Evidence, starting with "Dear Santa" (continuing the theme of killer robots) and continuing with the tale of a guy who is "sentenced 10 years in that Cranston pen" on "Mistreating Yarn Blues." His lady split and left behind only some "Avocados and Beer" ("We're like hotcakes and salt cod/we're like caviar and kielbasa/or strychnine and waffles"), and barroom lust results in a stolen kidney on "Stale Tequila," which appeared on Mistaken Identity and was redone with the full band. "Gin for dinner, vodka for dessert/and now I see whiskey for breakfast 'cuz I don't see how it could hurt," Haller croons over bloozy piano on the closing cut, "Relatively Human." The bittersweet "Codependent" is a pretty back porch country number, and "Blame the Train" chugs along with nice harmonies from Markward and Monti. "The Ballad of Anne Hutchinson" was picked for RISA's Singing About Providence CD, released at the 375th birthday party last week, and is further proof that Haller can pen a tune on just about any topic.
"I read Sarah Vowell's book The Wordy Shipmates, which had a section on the trial of Anne Hutchinson," Haller recalled. "I found it very powerful and moving — a lone, heroic individual stands up to the powers that be and gives them a run for their money."