Underrated Marshall Crenshaw flies under the pop radar

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In the annals of underappreciated pop-rock singer-songwriters, Marshall Crenshaw is probably at the top of the chart. Some may vaguely recall him hitting the top 40 back in 1982 with the single “Someday, Someway”, but it’s quite likely that even more remember rockabilly crooner Robert Gordon’s version of it from the previous year.

Crenshaw’s songs have been covered by such diverse artists as Ronnie Spector and Freedy Johnston, and he cowrote a single with the Gin Blossoms (“Til I Hear It From You”) that hit number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1995. But the average music fan would still be hard-pressed to name two of the 10 studio albums Crenshaw has released since his stunning self-titled debut of ’82.

That lack of recognition hasn’t stopped the 59-year-old tunesmith from continuing to do what he does best: release seriously catchy, hook-filled, and poignant pop-rock songs to those who view him as one of the all-time greats.

To coincide with the last Record Store Day, on November 23, Crenshaw issued the first in a series of three-song, 10-inch, 45-RPM EPs, each of which will include a new original composition, a classic cover, and a remake of a previously released Crenshaw gem. The first EP kicks off in grand style with “I Don’t See You Laughing Now”, which—as he explains by phone from the road in Pennsylvania—is based on an upsetting documentary he saw a few years ago.

“When I introduce the song in front of an audience I usually say, ‘See if you can guess which disturbing documentary mostly inspired this song,’ ” he says, before refusing to name the actual film. “I think it’s better to just leave some wiggle room in the minds of the listeners as to what it’s about.”

The cover selection on the I Don’t See You Laughing Now EP is a new take on the Move’s “No Time”, a 1971 song that Crenshaw describes as “unique and very beautiful”.

“I was one of the few American fans of the Move back when they were still functioning as a unit,” he contends. “They had an album called Shazam that got promoted for half-a-minute in America, and I heard a song from it on FM radio and just got completely hooked.”

The EP’s final cut is a reworking of “There She Goes Again”, a tune from Crenshaw’s ’82 debut, which he recorded live with Missouri-based alt-country rockers the Bottle Rockets.

“They’re great guys,” he declares. “We got paired up a couple years ago, and now I’ve been doing tours with them fairly regularly. We just did a nice run in January where we started out in Ohio and worked our way down to Florida.”

Although relatively unknown to the masses, Crenshaw’s status as a songwriter’s songwriter means established acts are willing to take him out on tours. He’s calling in the midst of a four-day drive to L.A., where he’ll begin a West Coast trek with former Blaster Dave Alvin’s current band.

“I guess that’s kinda how it goes,” he says, “although once in a while, when I play in New York City, I have to round up some of the usual suspects from around there. But, yeah, when I tour now it’s either solo or with the Bottle Rockets, and now I’m attempting this thing with Dave Alvin, which I think is gonna be great. It should be.”

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Sam McBride
Imagine if only 500 people had ever heard of The Beatles. And you (generic "you") were one of the 500. That's what it feels like with Marshall Crenshaw. He should be HUGE. It's like the gods of music planned for Marshall: "You shall be brilliant, but you shall be obscure." And obscure he is. And brilliant. God is he brilliant.
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