CD Review of The Pigeons Couldn’t Sleep by Peter Himmelman

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The Pigeons Couldn’t Sleep
starstarstarstarno star Label: Himmasongs/Thirty Tigers/RED
Released: 2007
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Call Peter Himmelman the anti-Axl Rose. Counting albums of children's music (but not live albums or best-of compilations), The Pigeons Couldn't Sleep marks Himmelman's mind-blowing fifteenth release since 1993. He may not be a household name – hell, odds are you haven't heard of him – but it isn't for want of material.

Or, more importantly, lack of talent. Since helping elevate the Minneapolis scene to the national stage in the late '70s with Sussman Lawrence, Himmelman has doggedly pursued a bumpy, personal career path – one that's seen him pass through the doors of labels both major and indie, graze the pop and rock charts, and tour the country countless times. Himmelman's audience is too small to earn him any platinum wall art, but it's devoted enough to keep him from having to wear a tie to work. The best of both worlds, if you will.

The Pigeons Couldn't Sleep comes on the heels of Imperfect World and Unstoppable Forces, a pair of all-but-self-released records that suffered from a lack of cohesion and consistent material. They weren't bad per se, but Himmelman had done better; one sensed that his more lucrative day job – scoring television shows – might have been interfering with his ability to focus. (Then again, he's also released a string of wonderful children's albums over the last ten years, so other factors were probably at play.)

Happily, Pigeons marks a vibrant rebound for Himmelman. It's the type of album commonly referred to as a “return to form,” but in this case, that's inaccurate; it's actually a strong step forward. His albums tend to be short on immediate gratification but long on staying power, and Pigeons is no different – what's changed here is the sonic palette Himmelman is drawing from. These songs move nimbly across the musical map, from stripped-down confessionals to all-out rockers and several points between. It's refreshing, particularly for a guy whose predilections tend toward the “harrowing dark night of the soul” end of the spectrum; rarely has Himmelman sounded so relaxed – he sometimes even sounds like he's having fun – on one of his (grown-up) records.

The songs, predictably, are wonderful, shot through with more of Himmelman's pointed observations on life, love, and mortality. As the album's title indicates, these are restless times we're living in, and even if Peter Himmelman's music doesn't provide any answers for that restlessness, it will make you feel like he's shifting nervously right there next to you. Such is his gift.

And speaking of gifts, The Pigeons Couldn't Sleep comes bundled with a 45-minute documentary titled “Rock God,” a film that takes an unflinching look at the (often somewhat depressing) state of Himmelman's career. Filming apparently began on the eve of “Judging Amy”'s cancellation, a period in which Himmelman was slogging through an undersold tour, and as you might expect, there are more than a few glum moments. What shines through, however – here and in Himmelman's music – is an unwillingness to yield to the darkness. He doesn't really come across as a cheerful motivator – at one point early on, he says "Sometimes I envy people who are brave enough to simply wave their dreams goodbye” -- but then you see him on stage, performing brilliant feats of improvisation, and you can't help pulling for him.

On the album's opening cut and title track, Himmelman sings "Some things in life go smooth, but they're mostly in our dreams." In his case, at least professionally, this certainly seems to hold true. Thankfully, relative ease isn't an indicator of worth – in fact, where Peter Himmelman's music is concerned, it might be just the opposite. This album probably won't sell an awful lot of copies. In fact, you probably won't buy it. But you should.

~Jeff Giles