While The Pernice Brothers have made many excellent lush, highly orchestrated albums over the years, you can tell that most of Joe Pernice's songs start with an acoustic guitar. He's got the kind of honeyed voice -- and literate songcraft -- that doesn't need much embellishing to get the point across. That's clear on his new solo album, Richard, which is pretty much just Joe and his guitar.

Maybe it's the directness of the presentation, but Richard is an especially sad record, with little of Pernice's dark humor to cut the pain this time. Nearly every song is tinged in regret, whether it's "wasting away my life with you" on twisted love song "Long Black Shadow," or album opener "Starry Crown" where "every sorrow's easy and spurious love survives." Even the "la-las" on "Sullivan Street," set against delicate horns, sound like a lament.

Two back-to-back songs are especially crushing.  "Spend This Mountain" finds him trying to put on a brave face against a terrible loss. "When they woke me with the news, man I wish I'd never come to," he sings, and I have to wonder if this one's about his close friend David Berman. The other gut-punch is Richard's title track where Pernice wishes he'd done more to befriend a bullied LGBTQIA kid that, with its refrain of "always alone, always to be alone" and Joe's slight British-y accent, sounds like it could've been an early Smiths b-side.

Joe is, as always, in baroque pop mode, melody-wise, which is tailor suited to his voice, with a few cowboy ballad touches -- nylon string guitar, harmonica -- that also fit the songs perfectly. "Solo" has rarely sounded so lonesome and beautiful.

For Bandcamp's Juneteenth fundraiser, Pernice's Ashmont Records is making a donation to the Southern Poverty Law Center, matching Bandcamp's donation to the NAACP.

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