The Great Puzzle

If you didn’t know that singer-songwriter Jules Shear has been kicking around for years (his songs have been made into hits by both Cyndi Lauper and the Bangles, and he led late-’70s underground favorites Jules and the Polar Bears), his raspy, unpolished voice might clue you in: It has the comfortable, slept-in quality of rumpled flannel PJs, and that’s its great charm. For his latest selection of catchy, nimble-witted pop songs in The Great Puzzle, Shear has assembled an intuitive backing band-including guitarist Steuart Smith and keyboardist Joy Askew — that stands up to the weird candor of his lyrics (”I can wait like a dog/But I waited for hours/Kind of makes this puppy/Want to pee on flowers”). On ”The Trap Door” and ”We Were Only Making Love,” chiming guitars conjure the gentle power of blinking stars — a perfect match for Shear’s disarmingly earnest diction. And for all Shear’s cleverness with a lyric, it’s his delivery that really makes the record sing: On ”Bark” his nearly whispered accusation (”You don’t know how I feel”) reads like a shout — and an admission that even the most pointed wit will protect you only so much. A-

The Great Puzzle
  • Music