Eighteen years ago, the future looked (and sounded) grand for Michael Penn: A pseudo-heartthrob turn in the video for the top-30 hit 'No Mythâ?� was a potential step out of the shadows of his brother, Sean. He was 'Romeo in black jeans,â?� cresting on a mainstream jangle wave stirred up two years earlier by Crowded House. That wave crashed, though, leaving Penn's career in the all-too-common pop dynamic of creative peaks and commercial valleys, record contracts flying in and out of the picture until the inevitable self-release of Mr. Hollywood, Jr. 1947 last year. (It's reissued alongside this retrospective, and beefed up with six bonus live songs.)
Palms and Runes, Tarot and Tea may not remedy any of Penn's commercial woes (one doubts he would even care) but what it does do is cast a heartfelt spell of beauty. Twenty songs mining all five of his albums (each handpicked by Penn himself) result in what can best be described as a set list: no chronology, just a story unfolding. Like a sort of smart man's Tom Petty, or a young man's Bob Dylan, Penn's wordplay ('Whatever news you had, whatever shoes you had, whatever made you mad enoughâ?� from 'I Can Tellâ?�) and winced pitch-hopping have become a beloved signature among his still-listening fan base, who will lap this up. For some coincidental timeliness, check out last year's 'Walter Reed.â?�
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