Papa M

Whatever, Mortal (Drag City)

It's not just an affinity for ballads about blowjobs that allies Leonard Cohen with Papa M. Give the former a lozenge or the latter a bronchial infection, and what you have is the same voice of whiskey and surrender spinning tales of the women who lead to both. If love is work, these are its field hands, its slave labor, toiling in the name of what burdens them, yet getting little more than callused palms and sore backs for their troubles.

So why do they continue to ply what is, for them, so often a thankless trade? For Cohen, it's because he's oppressed by the figures of beauty, the curvy "robins" that flutter in and out of his "Chelsea Hotel No. 2." For Papa M (a.k.a. David Pajo), it's because he likes the taste of saltwater: "She is a dream of the sea/In that perfect water/I have never been so free," he sings on "Many Splendored Thing." Pajo then nearly drowns in this amour on the very next track. "Maybe you'd be better off with another man," he coughs on "Glad You're Here With Me," a cruel turnabout that would surely make Cohen crack a knowing smile -- you know, if he did that sort of thing. Still, simply harnessing Cohen's thematic dusk wouldn't be enough if Pajo weren't able to brighten his somewhat monochromatic lyrics with a sonic palate as unbounded as his emotional range is limited. Pajo's exquisite guitar playing, honed with heavyweights Slint and Tortoise, is at once understated and elaborate -- like a fingerprint, and just as unique.

His playing, combined with the rattling of car keys and dog tags, the bellyaching of banjos and creaky wooden floors, and Pajo's own pliant, windswept voice, makes it all as beautiful and sad as the farewell bid to one's serenity in the wake of that first damning kiss.

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