Mason Jennings continues to please with his new album Always Been
“Staying open to the feeling of awe, the feeling of being moved by things—that’s the most important part of songwriting for me …. When I’m able to stay in a childlike state that’s more about the heart than the head, that’s when the songs really come in.” — Mason Jennings
Mason Jennings’ new album Always Been continues his streak of pop-folk perfection. Jennings has always managed to balance folk with more accessible pop songs, relying on a bed of rootsy guitar playing to support his more modern and contemporary lyrics. On Always Been, Jennings continues to draw upon his kindred spirits, invoking the likes of Harry Nilsson, Ryan Adams, and Freedy Johnston.
The source of the album’s title, “Patti & Robert” is an ode to the legendary relationship of folk-punk Goddess, Patti Smith and iconic photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. While “Patti and Robert” is love story of lifelong platonic support and artistic inspiration, it stands as one of the most inspirational and beautiful relationships from the 20th-century arts scene (as Smith wrote about in her novel Just Kids – read the NYT review.
“Lonely Street” is the album’s lead track and first single. The song has a pep to its step even if it’s a tale of the end of things (be it a relationship or the end of a naive century of beliefs). As an added bonus, Jennings invited fans to submit their covers of the song prior to the album’s release and posted the “winning” version on his official site.
“Wilderness” is the second single from Always Been and seems to continue the back-and-forth of the album, from relationship bliss to relationship struggles. There are some nice specifics interjected in the song, but nothing so personal or detailed as to distract the listener from being able to hear their own story in “Wilderness”. Even in its bleakness, “Wilderness” still offers encouragement and the promise of survival.
Coming across almost as a lost Harry Nilsson track, “Dreaming” harkens back to Jennings’ 2011 release, Minnesota … it also sets the tone for other standout tracks on the record including “Instrument” and “Rainboots”.
“Instrument” features the vocal support of Iris DeMent, and while the song may in fact address love, it is an all encompassing love, not just the love between two people. Be it through a guitar, a letter, religion, art, or a relationship, this song suggests sharing love can make the world a better place.
“Rainboots” is similar in charm to his previous album’s “Raindrops On The Kitchen Floor” (though “Raindrops” is the superior song). For some reason, “Rainboots” makes me think of the TV sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” (granted, that involves an umbrella). Regardless, it is an example of the cute and quirky songs that Jennings is so skilled at crafting. The Southern gospel tinged “Witness” is another equally adorable song, continuing the theme of love as a religious experience.
Closing out the album and connecting back to Jennings’ early childhood in Hawaii, “Just Try” brings in the ukulele (between Eddie Vedder’s Ukulele Songs and the film Blue Valentine, ukuleles are definitely “hip” once again). A song of whimsy, possibly of unrequited love … its optimistic in its determination and sets the listener adrift … and eager to start the album all over again.
Read Mason Jennings’ story about the creation of Always Been:
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Adam Kukic is the host of The Coffeehouse on 91.3-FM, Pittsburgh … listen live at www.wyep.org
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