Start The Car, by Jude Cole
Start The Car is a somewhat mystifying album. It’s by no means a bad album. It is, in fact, a great album, full of strong tracks that fit a heartland rock approach that is at least country-adjacent, and full of Cole’s usual melancholy and reflective songs about love and relationships and the search for respect and the better life that he feels is his due as a talented singer/songwriter. But it’s a mystifying album all the same, on at least several levels. A well-polished product with some stellar playing by noted studio musicians like Cole himself as well as such names as Jeff and Steve Porcaro (of Toto fame), David Paich, and Lenny Castro, this album was released in the second half of 1992 to a music-buying public that seemed to want lots of grunge and alternative and not this. The mystifying choices do not only include the fact that this is an album released out of season, as it were, not gritty enough to hang with the Southern rock of the Crowes and certainly nowhere near grunge, but the fact that it includes an intro track as the middle track of the album, and is not sequenced in a way that would draw the most attention to its most melodic songs, including “It Comes Around,” which is all the way at track #9. It’s a shame that no one was willing to ask him what he was trying to accomplish this, as it is not pop enough for pop and not grungy enough for 90’s rock.
As an album, this one has more guitars and mandolin and less keyboards in the mix than his previous album, but otherwise covers much of the same territory. In addition to relationship issues, there are songs that express Cole’s growing dissatisfaction with his success as a singer/songwriter, in songs like “Start The Car,” where he sings a relatively upbeat song about wanting to leave town, or “Just Another Night,” where he talks about how he enjoys a quiet night without fighting with his girl while pondering how it is that people think he is a bigtime artist, or “It Comes Around,” which expresses his hope in success, or “A Place In The Line,” where he wonders when that time of success will come in life and love. Interspersed around these meditations on show business and life come such songs as “Open Road,” another traveling song, or “Tell The Truth,” which urges a partner to speak her mind or break up, because Jude Cole isn’t going to be reading anyone’s mind–it is unsurprisingly one of the standout tracks here and an obvious single. “Right There Now” and “First Your Money (Then Your Clothes),” are slower tracks that deal with reflection about failed relationships, a familiar lane for Cole and his audience.
Ultimately, this is an album that, like the music career of Jude Cole, has largely slipped through the cracks. Three songs from the album were released as singles, but none of them was particularly successful. The title track and the moving and hooky “Tell The Truth” were barely top 40 hits and the moving “Worlds Apart” hit the lower ranks of the chart, but overall this was not an album that had even the modest success of its successor. Given the fact that this album appeals to people like me who enjoy rootsy rock with melancholy material and a well-polished sound, and not to radio programmers or wide audiences, it is little surprise that the album tanked and Cole was dropped from Reprise records afterwards. He would continue to release music through the 90’s, but his next two albums also failed to resonate with audiences and he would then continue his involvement in the music industry as a session player, songwriter, and producer for other acts to some success to the present day. Still, this is an album that might have been something, if enough people had heard it. But they didn’t.