IN 1986, an L.A. duo named David + David made an album called "Boomtown" that was one of the year's best debuts. David Baerwald's sweet pop vocals and warped, hard-boil descriptions of California decadence were nicely offset by David Ricketts's fluid jazz keyboards and herky-jerky rock guitar. Then the duo disappeared. Only this year has Baerwald reemerged with a solo album, "Bedtime Stories," that replaces Ricketts with another jazz-rock composer: Joni Mitchell's husband and bassist Larry Klein. The results are very similar to "Boomtown" but without the quirky guitar parts.
Baerwald has established himself as an heir to a very peculiar tradition: L.A. singer-songwriters who wrap their deadpan narratives about bleak eccentrics in sophisticated, impeccable pop music. The masters of the genre are Randy Newman and Donald Fagen, but Baerwald is not up to their level. His lyrics are clever and amusing but never surprising; his music is appealing pop but never acquires any harmonic weight. Baerwald is more on the level of Harry Nilsson, Alan Price and Tim Buckley, and that's not such a bad place to be.
"Bedtime Stories" includes two songs left over from Baerwald's collaborations with Ricketts, including the album's strongest, most direct number, "Walk Through Fire." Also included are four numbers salvaged from an unreleased solo album produced by Steve Berlin and Matt Wallace, including the new album's most understated, chilling tune, a Vietnam song called "Stranger." The other six songs were co-written and co-produced with Klein, who lends that shifting, sliding bottom that has marked his wife's recent records.
DAVID BAERWALD -- "Bedtime Stories" (A&M). Appearing Sunday at the 9:30 club with Electric Uncle Bonsai.