Breaking the longest musical silence of his decade-plus career, David Berman reactivates his Silver Jews project for its fifth studio album, “Tanglewood Numbers.” The Drag City set boasts the return of longtime collaborators/former Pavement members Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich, who took a breather from the Jews’ 2001 album, “Bright Flight.”
“For the first time, I really am happy with the record in the sense that I will listen to it without it being a painful experience,” Berman says. “In my mind, this is a hard rock record. The last one was more of a vocal record. With my limited voice, my reaction to displaying it is that it’s necessary to put it right out front and not to hide it. But on this record, it’s a rock record, so I thought the voice would become more of an instrument.”
While “Tanglewood Blues” will hardly earn comparisons to Black Sabbath or Ozzy Osbourne (of whom Berman confesses a recent obsession, along with Johnny Paycheck), it does feature a handful of more propulsive tracks than usual, including opener “Punks in the Beerlight” and the frothy, lyrically beguiling “Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed.”
What it mostly offers up is another helping of literate, country-tinged rockers (“Animal Shapes,” “K-Hole”) and maudlin ballads (“The Farmer’s Hotel,” the first three minutes of “There Is a Place”). A major new contributor is Berman’s wife Cassie, who offers effective vocal counterpoint on a number of cuts and inspired the artist to fill “20 of those little yellow legal pads” with ideas.