Jonathan Perry - Music Critic/Columnist Boston Globe
Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter John Laprade can’t recall if his need to make music came after a summer spent wearing out the Beatles’ red and blue albums, or whether it was the time he drove his mom crazy by playing Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Gold & Platinum” nine times in a row (if it was that “Frampton Comes Alive” bender, he won’t cop to it).Or maybe the desire came a little later, when albums like Elvis Costello’s “My Aim Is True” and XTC’s “Skylarking” hit him like the sharp and true musical arrows they were. (And if the Police’s “Synchronicity” had anything to do with it, well, he won’t cop to that either).The point is, Laprade has spent the better part of his life (most notably as a member of New York’s buzzed-about indie-pop outfit Astro Chicken) surrounded by songs. Namely the ones he likes, and makes, best: Pop songs (no, not the kind of “pop” that brings to mind Justin Bieber and whatever else is moving units to tweens this week and ruining the word for the rest of us). You know, pop: classically constructed, down-to-earth rock and roll that’s sometimes serious, sometimes silly, occasionally sardonic, but always gilded with lush melodies, a redolent vocal hook from a forthright voice you can relate to, and catchy choruses that do what they’re supposed to. (Namely, shoot a ray of Shangri-La sunshine into your world, no matter how dark your day or cramped your commuter train ride home). A word of caution: Don’t be fooled by the album’s title. “World-Class Faker,” Laprade’s full-length debut after last winter’s appetite-whetting “Blind” EP, is the genuine article: a cogent reminder for listeners that a great, true pop song is always worth hearing, having, and holding close by your side. A reminder that a little piece of sanity and escape is possible, even when the world around you seems to be spinning out of control (as it does on the Brendan Benson-esque “Blind,” with its laundry list of bleak bad news presented on a cushion of Laprade’s vocal ambrosia to soften the blow). There’s a remarkable momentum of movement and breadth of styles here, from the brisk fiddle and roots-rock gallop of “The Last Time,” to the spare, saturnine ballad, “Anything At All,” to the amiable country amble of “Tennessee” (whose trailer-trash imagery, plunked piano, and rustic wheeze of harmonica playfully wink back at both singer and listener). And yet, despite its impressive range of reach, this remains an unfussy, uncluttered collection of songs that all connect – to each other and to the listener – with surprisingly seamless, self-effacing ease. To keep things from getting too understated, the album features a rare yet indelible appearance from Television guitar god Richard Lloyd, who dispenses a barbed, bracing blast of electric mayhem amid “Knock You Down,” Laprade’s celeb-culture smack talk smackdown. (Gotta say, the guy’s got taste. Come to think of it, both of ‘em do). The ensuing effect is something akin to taking a can of bright, bubbly pop, shaking it furiously, and then cracking it open in a crowded elevator. Elsewhere, Laprade also gets a little help from friends like Fab Faux drummer Rich Pagano, who plays in what is arguably the world’s best Beatles tribute project. He sounds right at home on John’s softly sung valentine, “Before There Was You.” (Guess that “blue album” made an impression, eh?).But “World-Class Faker” isn’t about hotshot guest stars, or phonies or frauds. Quite the opposite, in fact. Oh, the people who populate John’s songs may worry about being found out – about having to laugh when you want to cry; about having to pretend you don’t notice that things didn’t turn out like you hoped, or were promised, they would. But ultimately, the characters who live inside these songs are ordinary folks caught at an emotional crossroads, trying to make the best of their circumstances the only way they know how – with mustered doses of humor to cut the heartache; regret-tinged ambivalence; and a cautious measure of hope. So they brace themselves, look for a glimpse of blue sky above, and dream a little harder. Dream a little harder is, finally, what “World-Class Faker” allows us to do too, thanks to melodies that are as sturdy as they are fetching – ready and able to hook even the heaviest of hearts and send spirits skyward. If nothing else, these songs give us a chance at escape and release, even as we remain earthbound with our feet planted in the places of our everyday lives: kicking the dust and gravel ground of a country road; navigating the noisy sidewalk of a city street; or stuck on the dirty floor of a train back to Brooklyn. And really, when you come right down to it, isn’t that what great pop music is all about?"