A review of the CD ‘Big Mouth’ by Happy Joe:
New Jersey’s premier shouter-songwriter Joe Canzano picks up where he left off with 2003’s ‘Kiss the Planet Blue’ by serenading wage slaves:
You’re working harder
You’re getting nowhere
Your future is a heavy load
In a flimsy paper bag
Big Mouth differs from Joe’s previous recordings in that he plays bass himself but doesn’t play electric guitar. Bill Homeyer joins him on unintrusive drums and percussion.
The songs are short and incisive, full of social commentary, humour and commercial sensibility. Yet commercialism is one of Joe’s targets. I don’t think there are many songwriters who could sum up the dumbing down effect of television like this:
You ruin everything you touch
All the time, everywhere too much
Joe plays the acoustic guitar as if it were an electric, with bar chords and pentatonic riffs. He plays fingerstyle though, which allows for subtlety and dexterity without the obnoxiousness and blandness which an electric guitar can bring to a song.
One of the catchiest tracks on the album is ‘Song for the Next War’, set to a manic marching beat and using sarcasm instead of sentimentality to plead the cause for peace. The blindly obedient soldier ‘can’t wait to be shot and killed’ while ‘the bombmakers build castles out of cash’.
Joe’s yelling, screeching and shouting is effective on the more strident songs but the aggressive approach also serves him well on songs with more emotional content like ‘My Very Best’ and ‘Song For a Musician’, the latter being a satisfying final track. As Joe surveys the scene at a grassroots music event the listener can almost see and hear the ‘crazy man on the trombone’.
In the middle of ‘Big Mouth’ there are critiques of CCTV (‘Are you an American? I am watching you’) and organized religion (‘Get out, get out, get out of my life’), followed by the 3-chord anthem ‘Juggernaut’, which could refer again to the beast of big business destroying almost everything in its path.
‘Fighting for Freedom’ covers the same thematic ground as ‘Song For the Next War’ and lambasts the ‘freedom of choice to hear only one voice’. ‘Smashed Up Cadillac’, another catchy track, sums up the attitude of the saner variety of US citizen towards their former president G W Bush. Fortunately for us, Happy Joe is still smashing.
(Happy Joe is playing live on the internet for 15 minutes every weekday this month at 7pm EST in North America/ 12am in the UK.
This site also contains an archive of 20 previous shows. Check it out!)