Jules Mark Shear is living proof that talented musicians who prefer to remain on the fringes of pop music can maintain a successful career without kowtowing to the winds of mainstream fad and fashion. On his latest release, More, Shear delivers a collection of songs that are as fresh, vibrant and punky as his first release over twenty years ago.
Jules Mark Shear started his career as simply Jules Shear with a L.A. country-rock group, Funky Kings. His second band, Jules and the Polar Bears, garnered critical acclaim but little financial success. In 1983 Shear released his first solo album, Watch Dog, produced by Todd Rundgren. It, too, failed to dent the pop charts. However Shear's songwriting skills proved to be more commercially viable. He's penned hits for Cyndi Lauper, The Bangles, and Mathew Sweet. In 1986 Iain Mathews recorded an entire album of Shear's material entitled Walking a Changing Line for Windham Hill records. Shear is also responsible for conceiving the MTV series, Unplugged. He even hosted its first thirteen episodes.
Shear's guitar technique, or lack of it, supplies some insight into his musical roots. He plays left-handed with the right-handed guitar upside down tuned to an open-G tuning. He uses his thumb to fret the highest notes as well as bar the upper strings. To call his method unique may be an understatement. But Shear has always made music his own way and his guitar method merely reflects his individualistic bent.
More showcases Shear's songwriting talents. Sure, he sings all the leads and plays guitar, but the songs are the stars here. The overall sound of the CD returns to rock basics with only drums, bass, and guitar accompanying Shear's vocals. But his songs don't need any additional polishing to sound complete. Some, like "More," have been in Shear's repertoire for years (I have a live recording of Shear performing this song in 1994), but most are recent compositions. My favorite, "Table and Chairs," would be right at home on any compilation of great early-1980's punk or power-pop singles.
Although punk music may be so dead that it's making a comeback, (i.e. Green Day,) More fully embraces the best Do-it-Yourself ethos of early punk. All it takes is will, forbearance, and some degree of talent to create artistically successful music. As to whether More proves to be commercially successful, well, that's up to you.