Mason Jennings – Blood of Man

mason

Rating: ★★★½ ·

When Mason Jennings first released In the Ever, I couldn’t have been more disappointed.  The album seemed forced and overproduced–it lacked all the personality that I felt made Mason Jennings so special.  I even vowed never to give him my money again, unless I previewed his work prior to purchase.  Well, I gave in to my longing for Mason and got my hands on Blood of Man.

Upon the first listen all the way through, I paused momentarily, trying to wrap my head around the record, almost confused.  I came to the decision that this album seemed like a collection of really good demos.  There was an evident rawness to the writing, and the recording (drums especially) that brought back a whole lot of that character that sparked the flame of fandom within me so long ago.

Sure, the first song sort of seems like Mason is channeling that Eddie Vedder character people are so into, but the rest of the album wears that warmth of his vocal inflection that makes his music seem so unique.  Everything about Blood of Man seems completely natural and not forced.  This is more Use Your Voice era Mason than it is anything else, and I’m frankly relieved to see him heading back to that hallowed ground.

That being said, there are some odd missteps here, and I don’t necessary see them as bad things, but just really unexpected moments.  For instance, “Ain’t No Friend of Mine” appears like a sort of Dead Weather stomp with a splash of Mason.  Even his vocals have a little hint of Mr. White. Still, the dude’s been putting out tunes, so you can’t blame him for trying something entirely new.  Just be happy he seems to have steered far away from the land of Jack Johnson and other like-minded hacks.

What comes as a great surprise on this album is that Mason Jennings wraps it up perfectly by including some of his best efforts, as of late, on the end of the album.  You won’t find a more fitting tune for resolving personal crisis than “Lonely Road.”  And ending the entire record with “Blood of Man” shows how the simplest tunes are still the heart and soul of this singer/songwriter.  It’s just he and a guitar, and I guess that’s the way it always seems like it should have been.

So it seems that Mason Jennings has come around full circle.  He’s back to where he began, though with a bit of growth and maturity beneath his belt.  It makes this a great addition to his entire catalogue.  I’m glad I picked up Blood of Man.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/the-field-1.mp3]

Download: Mason Jennings – The Field [MP3]

Sondre Lerche – Heartbeat Radio

sondre

Rating: ★ · · · ·

Long ago, upon the heels of Faces Down, Sondre Lerche was quite the boy-wonder many fans of simple pop had been looking for all their lives.  His lyrics weren’t to abstract, and his handle over melody made his innocence resonate with every listener.  Here we are now, 2009, and he’s releasing Heartbeat Radio to great anticipation.  How has he grown up, and where does it leave him now?

First track, “Good Luck,” is something of a statement song, as grandiose symphonic arrangements are placed throughout the tune.  Here is Sondre, sounding as hypnotic as ever, yet something seems a bit off from it all.  Guitars are really low in the mix, placing the emphasis more on the orchestral arrangements instead of his own songwriting.  But this backs into “Heartbeat Radio,” which comes off with the sensible delivery Lerche has always carried with him.  It’s as close to the proximity of his earlier work as you are likely to get on this album.  And that is the problem that lies at the heart of this album overall; Sondre seems to have indulged his fancy one too many times, forgetting that the quality of his tunes lived in the simplicity of his arrangements.

Songs like “I Cannot You Go” or “Pioneer” are pleasant enough songs, but they don’t seem to have the passion in the vocals and the lyrics that used to make Sondre so appealing to the masses that followed him.  More so, he’s placed some unforgivable moments in here, such as “If Only,” which seems like a half-assed Jack Johnson impression. At the middle of the album listeners will possibly start to lose interest, as the creativity seems to have stalled around this mark.

Diehard fans should not be discouraged by all this, as there are definite moments in the album when you can see the maturity of Sondre Lerche has led to some new elements that you might find pleasing. “Words & Music” seems as if it was penned in the bouncing fashion of a classic Spoon song. The chorus, of course, brings back that memorable croon, but the overall bounce of the song is somewhat of a trip into new territory for Sondre. “Almight Moon” is similar in the fact that it seems radio to be an instant radio hit, not to see it doesn’t have that trademark touch of Lerche, but this is probably one of the more commercial tunes he’s written.

But, for all the decent moments, the most lasting impression of this album is that there isn’t really an impression left for you by the completion of the album.  In the past, he’s made some missteps, but he’s always had certain songs with a “wow” factor that have kept you salivating for more tunes, but this time around, the album seems devoid of genius.  Overall, Heartbeat Radio is a boring effort that lacks a lot of the panache of previous efforts by Sondre Lerche.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/05-heartbeat-radio.mp3]

Download: Sondre Lerche – Heartbeat Radio [MP3]