Mr Hollywood Jr. 1947

Michael Penn's new album, his fifth overall, is his first recorded and released outside of the major record labels. Recorded at his home studio, the album is generally set in post-World War II Los Angeles, specifically 1947.

That year has always held a fascination for Penn, he's been obsessed with it since his teens. It's the year where the world changed. The Department of War changed its name to the Department of Defense. That period also saw the invention of the transistor, and Chuck Yeager broke the speed of sound. And Michael Penn's father, TV director Leo Penn, was blacklisted in the same year for attending pro-union meetings.

The album begins with the song "Walter Reed," one of the album's best songs. The track's steadily-building, confident melody belies its moody lyrics about an emotionally-scarred soldier seeking redemption at the army medical hospital of the title.

But though there's a concept to the album, Penn doesn't consider Mr. Hollywood Jr. 1947 to be a concept album. There's not a storyline weaving all the songs together, merely thematic threads and a common setting. For example, "Mary Lynn" and "You Know How" are songs that deal with affairs and intrigue of the heart with little to connect them to 1947.

Speaking of "Mary Lynn," though—it's a nicely-produced love song, simple on paper, but fleshed out with mid-tempo stomping and clapping percussion, and accented by flutes and strings. A fine example of the layered, home-studio recording techniques practiced by Penn, who also served as his own producer.

Amongst the very few people helping Penn on Mr. Hollywood Jr. 1947 are longtime compatriot and keyboardist Patrick Warren and his significant other Aimee Mann, who contributes some backing vocals and occasional bass.

Three of the CD's 13 tracks are brief instrumental mood pieces, one nominally celebrating the invention of the transistor, another the spread of television. The third is the ominous "September 18," marking the 1947 date when the National Security Act became law, establishing the modern Department of Defense.

For fans, Mr. Hollywood Jr. 1947 is a home run. Non-fans may consider a few tracks to be filler, but it's by any viewpoint a strong album with some terrific songs. It's classic Michael Penn: urbane, tuneful, and intelligent pop music.

Mike Sauter, WYEP Music Director