How do you label Marshall Crenshaw's musical spectrum?
First of all there's the name. Marshall Crenshaw. Sounds more like a melon magnate or the new lawman in Dodge City than a rock-and-roll singer/songwriter/guitarist. Then there's the way he looks. Not New Wave, all red and black and vinyl. Not Punk - no safety pins. More as if someone handed the well-dressed CPA a guitar by mistake and he's too obliging not to play.
Finally, there's his music, a spectrum of sounds ranging from rockabilly to wall-of-sound, from early Dave Clark Five to late Elvis - Costello that is. No, Marshall Crenshaw is definitely in a class by himself, proving once and for all that the smart-mouthed kid with glasses (every high school has one) can grow up to be a rock star.
Last year his debut album came on like proverbial gang busters, winning among other rave notices the Best New Artist nod from Rolling Stone magazine. His new album, ''Field Day,'' has a hit single, ''Whenever You're on My Mind'' and has launched a successful concert tour. Overnight success? Let's look at the facts.
Crenshaw grew up in Detroit, where, he says, ''If you've got your radio on, you're going to hear black music, lucky for you,'' and ''the list of R&B and jazz musicians that came out of [there] is miles and miles long, days long.'' The music has influenced at least his selection of the songs he sings that aren't his own, if not his style. ''You don't have to copy something to be influenced by it,'' he says. In concert as well as on his albums he likes to play forgotten favorites by Smokey Robinson, Al Green, and the Jive Five.
But as Crenshaw says, ''I don't deliberately try to sound like anything other than what I am, which is a white kid from the suburbs.'' Since Crenshaw admits that ''playing music is easier than describing it to someone else later,'' and since the printed word knows no intonation, only adverbs, it is difficult putting him to words. His own words, the ones he puts to music, are unusually literate. What other songwriters sing of reveries and tundra?