Safe In Sound could be the title of Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter Jim Boggia’s life story, not just the name of his bluhammock music debut. As he often likes to explain to reporters, “I’ve been told that I was singing melodies before I started speaking words, and I started playing the guitar when I was five. I have no conception of a life before music.” Jim is the kind of hyper-kinetic guy who may never need an iPod because he’s already got instant recall of practically every song he’s ever heard and loved. Like a digital player permanently set in shuffle mode, he accesses riffs and rhymes with a sort of free-associative glee. At a recent acoustic gig, he managed to interpolate Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” into the middle of one of his own tunes; flirt with the hook of a sappy Chicago super-hit from the seventies; ably pluck out a verse of “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” on the guitar; and lecture the rapt audience on the origins of “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft.” (For the record, mysterious pop band Klaatu cut the track first, then the Carpenters turned it into a bizarre quasi-hit. Who knew?)
Jim’s unabashed love for pop music of all sorts – the cool, the classic, the corny – informs his own meticulously constructed, immediately engaging songs. But he’s more than just a facile craftsman; his songs are deeper, sometimes darker and more seriously romantic than his pop-trivia playfulness might suggest. Once you’ve finished admiring his vintage- sounding arrangements, you can start appreciating the very contemporary emotions he’s describing. Like his friend and occasional collaborator Aimee Mann, with whom he co-wrote the opening track “Shine,” Jim’s an exceptionally smart songwriter with an eye and ear for affecting details. “Where’s the Party?” a cautionary tale about rock star- style overindulgence that features Mann on background vocals, unfolds with the careful economy of a short story. Jim recounts various late-night misadventures with a morning-after matter-of-factness that makes his rueful lyrics all the more compelling. For such an affable guy, Jim’s especially good with the bittersweet stuff. “Slowly” combines to haunting effect Smiley Smile-era Beach Boy harmonies with layers of moody modern electronics. “Supergirl,” which follows, is a gentle heartbreaker, consisting of just vocals, guitar, gorgeous French horn and a lingering air of melancholy. He segues from that into an extended audio clip of “a wicked thunderstorm,” as he recalls it, recorded on the porch of the big old house he just vacated in the Manayunk neighborhood of Philadelphia, his adopted home.
Jim is pretty remarkable with the upbeat material, too. “Live the Proof,” the first song released to radio, pairs an inspirational, no-time-to-lose message with an impossible-to-resist chorus. “Made Me So Happy,” which features guest vocalist Jill Sobule, was obviously written by an Elvis Costello fan, but the furious word play is unadulterated Boggia; it’s the kind of 2 and 1/2 minute pop rocker that sends you flying for the replay button. “Underground” initially comes off as a cheerfully raucous rocker; listen more closely, however, and you’ll discover it’s a rapid-fire retelling of the real-life saga of former Weather Underground fugitive Bernadine Dohrn. MC 5 guitarist Wayne Kramer guest stars on the track, and, as Jim notes in his chatty, self-penned song credits, Kramer “was there when it happened, brothers and sisters, and was kind enough to provide a testimonial…and blistering lead guitar.” Jim also managed to convince reclusive seventies pop legend Emitt Rhodes to add Beatle-esque background vocals to the lovely, happy-sad “Let Me Believe (Evan’s Lament),” which Rhodes also co-wrote. Again, Jim adds a colorful footnote in the credits: “Emitt Rhodes has to sing the background vocals he feels…he has to feel the background vocals he sings. Oh, and he did.” (Don’t hesitate to read while you listen; the album credits are an essential, and very entertaining, part of the Boggia experience.)
In Philadelphia, Jim is already a local hero on the live music scene, thanks to his membership in the ad-hoc super-group 4 Way Street, which consists of Jim and three other city stars: Ben Arnold, Scott Bricklin and Joseph Parsons. The quartet first got together informally at an open mic event, then regrouped in 2001 to perform at a one-off event for taste- making radio station WXPN, which has long been a Boggia supporter. The reception from Philly fans was so enthusiastic that the foursome, all of them superb harmony singers as well as songwriters, began playing on a semi-regular basis and in 2003 released a well-received album, Pretzel Park. They’d recorded it in front parlor of that Manayunk house Jim shared with his girlfriend, band-mate Arnold, a posse of cats and various other humans – as well as assorted touring musicians who found a welcoming crash pad whenever they passed through town. One of Jim’s contributions, “Several Thousand,” became a AAA-radio hit and remains his most requested song at live gigs (although it’s about to get some competition once Safe In Sound is released).
Jim was raised in Michigan on a road with few neighbors and no other kids. At birth, he was declared legally blind in his left eye; over the years, the strength of his right eye has also diminished. That may partially explain why he has such remarkably fine-tuned ears. An only child, he remembers growing up isolated, “sitting in a room with a record player and a guitar, trying to learn all the songs I’m hearing.” He’s just old enough to have witnessed “the last gasp of records” -- that is, real working vinyl – and cites albums released well before his time, like the Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society, Nilsson Sings Newman and Stevie Wonder’s Innervisons, as perennial favorites. His uncles used to bring Jim their old 45s and he wore out several old copies of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” on his Close 'N Play turntable. There is evidence to support his recollections: the cover of his self-released 2002 solo debut, Fidelity is the Enemy, shows a toddler-sized Boggia surrounded by singles, transfixed by a plastic record player. The cover design also underscores Jim's determination to create a complete pop experience: the typeface he chose deliberately recalls the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds.
As a young adult, Jim realized if he wanted to stay in Michigan and move to the big city, his nearest choice would be Flint, an economically depressed place made infamous in the ‘90s by Michael Moore’s documentary, Roger and Me. So Jim answered a help-wanted ad from Ensoniq, a Philadelphia-based, high-tech studio equipment outfit looking for a customer service rep. He got hired and moved to Pennsylvania, where, for a few years at least, he juggled a day job while looking for songwriting opportunities. His abilities as a composer and guitarist attracted enough interest that he ultimately chucked the nine-to-five. He hit the road and/or collaborated in the studio with a wide-range of artists, including Canadian rocker Amanda Marshall, indie icon Juliana Hatfield and even Broadway diva Bernadette Peters. He now frequently performs alongside friend and fan Sobule, and has opened for Mann and her husband Michael Penn, who provided an extra pair of discerning ears during Aimee and Jim’s songwriting sessions. Jim initially got to know them while touring with 4 Way Street and their friendship grew. The couple introduced him to producer and multi-instrumentalist Julian Coryell and co-producer-engineer-mixer Joe Zook, who would record Safe In Sound with Jim.
While the album was in many ways shaped by his life in Philadelphia, Jim chose to record it in Los Angeles, where Coryell and Zook work. As he says, “I thought it would be nice to get away, so that for a few weeks I’m not dealing with real life, just with the music. I had never done anything like this before and maybe I won’t do it this way again. The next time will probably be a combination of home and away.” In the studio, Jim felt free to experiment with any sound-making equipment he could find, from Mellotron, Moog and Optigon to slinkys, megaphones and bouncing basketballs. What he’s created with his gizmos, guitars and incredible knack for melody is a collection of 12 tunes – plus one rainstorm and a goofy hidden track – as addictive and enduring as the classics he memorized as a child, a gift from his head to yours.
-- Michael Hill
All video content is provided by Youtube, and any questions, comments, or concerns regarding such content should be directed to Youtube