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Jonathan Richman

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Back in the 80s, when Jonathan Richman used to play the old Holsteins in Lincoln Park, some friends of mine spotted him on the street and pulled over to say hello. He was walking to a comic book shop that was some distance away, and when they offered him a ride he hopped right in--then looked at them warily and asked, "Hey, you guys aren't gonna do nothin' weird, are you?" Apparently Richman really is the goofy innocent who yearned to fall in love under the Cezannes at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts on the first Modern Lovers album 25 years ago. The childlike clowns always start to seem vaguely creepy as old age closes in on them (think Harpo Marx cavorting on TV in the 50s), and Richman, who'll be 51 in May, is no exception. But he persists in carrying the torch for romance in the big city, and his latest release, Her Mystery Not of High Heels and Eye Shadow (Vapor), ranks with his best work. The title tune, a midtempo rocker driven by strummed Spanish guitar, sings the praises of a lover who "laughs when she want, like you do when you're five years old." And the lilting "Springtime in New York" is about loving First Avenue "when it's May and the leaves are on the trees / When demolishing a building brings the smell of 1890 through the breeze." With its veil of organ, cello, viola, and woodwinds, this is one of the more elaborate records Richman has made, standing in contrast to the new Action Packed, which compiles the best of his super stripped-down work on Rounder Records (1987-'95). Among the highlights of the comp (and probably of the show): "Fender Stratocaster," the ever-popular "I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar," and "Vampire Girl," which gets a Spanish-language makeover on Her Mystery. Monday, February 25, 8 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace; 773-478-4408.

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