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Veteran singer/songwriter Ed Haynes has long been known for clever takes on classic subject matter and a surfeit of casually delivered smart-ass humor. While there’s definitely some of that on In His Latest Mystery, there’s a more serious tone to the meanings behind the wisecracks. “50 Simple Things” (included in both folk and rock versions) may include cheeky suggestions like “Start an unfounded rumor,” “break wind in the sauna bath” and “be unaware of your limitations,” but every line is presented as an alternative to something else: “These are 50 simple things you can do instead of committing suicide.” That’s followed by “Confession of [Redacted] (Juvenile),” a chronicle of adolescent murder that’s partly sad, partly chilling – a cautionary tale warning of the consequences of extreme poverty, familial abuse, extremist radicalization and mental illness. (The CD cover points the listener to notes about the song on Haynes’ website.) It’s a powerful condemnation of modern disassociation in the form of a first-person murder ballad.
With those two tracks as the core of this EP, “Famous Recluse” – an imaginary meeting between Bobby Fischer and J.D. Salinger – and “Tell Mother” – a more traditional tale of bad hombres and unexpected consequences – feel almost glib, but they also provide welcome breaks in the mood. In His Latest Mystery is a reminder that there’s much more to Haynes than jokes and sarcasm.