Guest appearances include Dr. John singing “Autumn in New Orleans,” Glee’s Jane Lynch on “Like a Charity,” the Fountains of Wayne (“Celebrity Booze Endorser”), Jamie Cullum (“A Few Bad Apples”), Alice Russell (“Trillion Dollar Bargain”) and Judith Owen (“Your Thing”). The album features several notable instrumentalists and producers: guitarists Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Steve Lukather and Bruce Gaitsch, Beach Boys/Brian Wilson musical director Jeffrey Foskett, producer John P. Fischbach and trumpeter Nicholas Payton. Shearer plays bass on the sessions.
Can’t Take a Hint is Shearer’s third album under his own name. Songs Pointed and Pointless (2007) and Songs of the Bushmen (2008) were each nominated for Grammy awards. …Hint takes its cue from Shearer’s radio program Le Show, a public radio staple since 1983 that deals with topical issues and lampoons the likes of Madonna, Rupert Murdoch, Sarah Palin, oil industry moguls and the weather in New Orleans. Most of the tracks on Hint are comedic musical sketches of the kind Shearer produces for Le Show. While regular Le Show listeners may have heard a few of these songs over the past couple of years, they have not been commercially available until now.
Here’s a brief rundown from Shearer’s office about the tracks on Can’t Take a Hint:
• “Celebrity Booze Endorser” (Harry Shearer, vocals; Fountains of Wayne, guest band): Shearer came to love the title phrase when Variety reported that Madonna had joined the ranks of celebrity booze endorsers. Song features indie rockers Fountains of Wayne, of whom Shearer is a “huge f—ing fan.”
• “Macondo” (Rob Brydon, vocals; Bruce Gaitsch, guitar; Chris Tedesco, trumpet; Shearer, bass; CJ Vanston, track): The song is written from the vantage point of the BP Petroleum executive who famously wanted his life back after the oil spill. Singing on the Randy Newman-esque track is Welsh actor/comic Rob Brydon, known for co-starring with Steve Coogan in “The Trip.”
• “Deaf Boys” (Shearer, vocals): Just your average a capella crooner- and Gregorian chant-inspired song about priests in U.S., U.K. and Italy who in a single week were found to have molested 200 deaf boys.
• “Autumn in New Orleans” (Dr. John, vocals; Nicholas Payton, trumpet; produced by David Torkanowsky): Shearer was in the Crescent City working on his acclaimed documentary about the 2005 New Orleans flood disaster, The Big Uneasy, and lived through a typically steamy New Orleans summer. In the second or third week of September, one could open the windows and breath a sigh of relief. The song is written as an homage to Hoagy Carmichael.
• “Touch My Junk” (Shearer, vocals; Vanston, track; Baxter, guitars, dobro, pedal steel; Gaitsch, guitar): Precipitated by the defiant airport security subject who exclaimed, “Don’t touch my junk!” When flying, Shearer’s motto is “a pat-down is for now, radiation is forever.” Skunk Baxter lends a country feel on dobro and steel.
• “A Few Bad Apples” (Jamie Cullum, vocals; Shearer, bass; Tedesco, trumpet; Vanston, piano; Glen Berger, saxes): A Sinatra-inspired song about blaming the underlings—the guys on the ground—for what’s gone wrong in modern-day wars. Shearer has known Cullum since Spinal Tap’s Glastonbury show.
• “Joe the Plumber” (Shearer, vocals; Jeffrey Foskett & Gary Griffin, arrangement and production; Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, guitars): In a metaphor for politics today, Joe the Plumber is neither named Joe nor is he a plumber. The song is straight-faced praise of the congressional candidate, with production from long-time Beach Boys/Brian Wilson musical director Foskett and engineering and co-production by Griffin.
• “Like a Charity” (Jane Lynch, vocals): A parody of a celebrity known for too much charity work in Africa and too little follow-up. Shearer knew Lynch from their work together on the movies A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration.
• “When the Crocodile Cries” (Shearer, vocals and bass; Gaitsch, guitar; Berger, clarinets; Vanston, track): A study of media mogul Rupert Murdoch from outside the character, looking in. Bruce Gaitsch (writer for Madonna, Richard Marx, Chicago, more) takes the guitar lead.
• “Your Thing” (Judith Owen, vocals; Shearer, rap; Steve Lukather, guitars; Berger, saxes; Vanston, track): The song came from a radio sketch about New York wanting to keep New Year’s Eve tourists in the city for the weekend. The two-note riff is invoked repeatedly, with guitar from Lukather all over it.
• “Trillion Dollar Bargain” (Alice Russell and Tommy Malone (subdudes), guest vocalist; CJ Vanston, keyboards; Jo Pusateri, drums, percussion, vibes): After the lowball estimates we were given on the war in Iraq, someone needed to make a case for how well the money had been spent. Musically, the song captures the spirit of Motown.
• “Cold Is to the Bone” (Charlie Wood, vocals, piano; Danny Thompson, bass): Shearer wrote this after a frigid February Mardi Gras upon realizing “Heat is only skin deep, but cold is to the bone.” Charlie Wood has accompanied Elvis Costello; Danny Thompson has played with everybody from Pentangle to Peter Gabriel.
• “Bridge to Nowhere: (Owen, vocals; Shearer, background vocals and bass; Vanston, track): The title doubles as a metaphor of the career of the politician who loved the ill-fated Alaskan project (before changing her mind). Owen does her best Sarah Palin here, and a video for the song appears on My Damn Channel.