Thomas TruaxThomas Truax
Album: Jetstream Sunset
Label: Psycho-Teddy
Tracks: 11

Although described variously as "enigmatic American troubadour" and "one of the most imaginative characters on the pop music fringe", I imagine it's still gonna be hard for many listeners to know quite what to make of Thomas, his unforgettably strange surname aside. According to the press handout, the guy's been releasing albums for well over a decade (Jetstream Sunset is listed as his eighth!) and yet he's never figured on my radar until now. Apparently, he's already toured with Jarvis Cocker, Duke Special and Amanda Palmer, while his talent has also been heartily endorsed by Terry Pratchett.

And from even a cursory exposure to Jetstream Sunset, no listener could deny that here's a decidedly unusual maverick in the great American tradition of oddballs and curios. Think the quirkiness of early Jonathan Richman perhaps, crossed with David Thomas/Père Ubu and maybe a soupçon of Robyn Hitchcock, and encompassing a certain David Lynch weirdness of sensibility (Thomas masterminded a 2009 album of Lynch film song covers), and blessed with the musical inventiveness of Harry Partch (to the extent of making bizarre musical instruments of his own) and even at times Frank Zappa. All in all, an extraordinary combination of modes and inspirations that might on the surface seem but a novelty act, but Thomas has abundant courage in his artistic convictions, and his music is often genuinely exciting, if mildly provocative (though without being offensive). For the Jetstream Sunset album, he's added to his own multi-instrumental dexterity the powerhouse inventive drumming of Brian Viglione (Violent Femmes, Dresden Dolls), which is a mighty, tangible presence (and, by the way, exceptionally well recorded to complement and offset Thomas's own playing and singing).

Lyric-wise, Thomas is thematically preoccupied with nostalgia, both personally and culturally, and his splintered, fractured reflections and refractions of that nostalgia make for a persuasive and maybe dangerous cocktail. There's a shifty near-instrumental cut (Phantom Vibrations) that's a gloriously twisted paraphrase/referential of Brian Wilson, Dick Dale, Link Wray and cheesy prog-punk - equating with the delirious abandon of the remainder of Thomas's musical world. Evidence Thomas's cover of You Are My Sunshine, which takes an edgy doowop tempo to its emotional extreme but without quite teetering on the brink of parody; its successor, You Are My Sunset, is a dreamy instrumental mood piece. The hushed tones of Written In Your Blood may then seem an unorthodox way to end proceedings, but Thomas's is a formidable presence that shouldn't be underestimated, for even at its most apparently rested and docile there's the threat of stormclouds.

David Kidman