More than 20 years on, I am still loving this album. This is surprising for 2 reasons:
1 – most albums sound ‘dated’ after 20 years, and I don’t believe this one does
2 – I am usually more Bon Jovi than Joshua Kadison with my taste in music
But when it comes to “Painted Desert Serenade”, my tastes go out the window. The title refers to the painted desert on his piano. It has far more of an ‘easy listening’ feel to it than what I usually go for, but I still think it is a brilliant piece of work.
Starting with Joshua Kadison’s voice and playing ability: The piano in “Jessie”, the song that launched his career, is phenomenal. His voice has a soft unreal quality to it that I haven’t heard in a male vocalist since. However, I don’t think even Joshua’s ability and song itself were the only reason it was a hit. I think everyone remembers it because they can relate to it in some way. It is basically about that person who always gets under your skin no matter what. In the song, Jessie wants to get back together – “Doesn’t that sound sweet? Jessie you always do this….every time I get back on my feet.”
I think there is always someone in our lives that we just can’t stay away from – it may not be a romantic relationship like in the song, you may be able to apply it to a friend who always seems to need your help for example. Everyone assumes this song was written for Sarah Jessica Parker, who he was seeing at the time, but it was actually about a Jessica he was seeing in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Still remembered here in Australia, it made it to #15 on the ARIA chart.
“Painted Desert Serenade” is one of those songs that gets in your head and never leaves. Lyrically, it is about an old man and his love interest. You don’t realise until she says “my children brought me here and promised me they’d call” that they are in a nursing home. It is such a poignant song about making the most of life that even the references to age can’t bring it down.
“Beau’s All Night Radio Love Line” is the perfect song for the brokenhearted. Set to a beat perfect to waltz to, Joshua sings of his “Samantha” – is she his “cougar” or just his love interest? Samantha saying “I’ve got some miles on me and you’re such a kid dear” certainly makes us think she is older. But the song is really about finding love just like all the callers to Beau’s love line are trying to do. The harmonica and twelve string guitar are the central instruments to this song and work so well.
The Oboe is front and centre of the next song, “Invisible Man”. The overall sound complements the opening line – “woke up this morning with a funny feeling” – and keeps that dreamy quality throughout the song.
“Mama’s Arms” is the most personal piece on the album, as it is about the death of Joshua’s mother. The choir gives the song a wonderful gospel feel – they are brilliant. You can’t help but visualise a little boy at his mum’s funeral.
“Beautiful In My Eyes” has a real “wall of sound” vibe about it. The band and the choir just turn it into the big, happy moment on the album. This reached #5 on the ARIA chart, making it his biggest Aussie hit.
“Picture Postcards from L.A.” sounds like a happy song when you first hear it. If you listen closely to the words of the song however, you realise it may be one of saddest on the album (next to Mama’s Arms obviously). Rachel, the character in the song, is a waitress who wants to be a star. Whether she wants to be a singer or an actress is not clear, she may want to be both. Like most people, Rachel gives up on her dream and doesn’t leave her hometown, which is sad when you think that Kelly Clarkson could have been one of those girls. She was a waitress in Texas before she won American Idol, so this song could have so easily been her story.
The reality is, some of us aren’t as lucky (or talented) as Kelly. “Something always comes up…..something always makes her stay….and still no picture postcards from L.A.” We should all think of Rachel when we give up on life. Unlike Rachel however, the piano player seems fine with not being a star in the song. He is alright as long as he gets his postcards when Rachel makes it. I’ve always wondered if Joshua would have been content with being just a piano player if this album hadn’t been released.
“When a Woman Cries” – The Hammond B3 Organ shines on this song and gives it a great jazz feel. It is a great take on the Joe Cocker classic. Another one to waltz to.
“Georgia Rain” is the ‘sequel’ to Jessie if you like, but you’ll have to listen to the song to find out if Jessie stays with her love – I won’t ruin it for you. What I will tell you is that it is as close to rock as Joshua will ever get – electric guitar on this album?? Who would have thought?! The heaviest drums on the whole album also add to a great song.
All in all, a fantastic album and the only thing I would say is that I wish there were more songs on it – 9 songs sure do go fast. However, a lot of the great albums only have 9 or less songs on it (ie: Thriller, Bat Out of Hell) so I believe it is in good company.