Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Review: Mason Jennings - In the Ever

There's something about the combination of Mason's stripped down, acoustic-driven music, soulful lyrics and vocal delivery that has attracted me to his music since my first listen. He hooked me hard enough with Sorry Signs on Cash Machines that I ended up buying up his entire back catalog in a about a weeks time back when I really had no business buying more than a CD or two a month.

Each album saw Mason grow and experiment a bit more without ever losing touch of what he truly is - a singer songwriter with a knack for telling stories anyone can relate with. Boneclouds felt like the attempt to bring Mason to the masses, but for one reason or another it fell short. To this day it's probably my favorite album in Mason's catalog but it seems it wasn't poppy, slick or accessible enough to bring him to the "next level".

Personally, I'm happy that Mason didn't quite make it. I wish Mason the best and all, but I'm not sure I could stand to have Mason worshiped like, say, Jack Johnson. I like Jack but it can get on my nerves when 15 year old cheerleaders are listening to JJ one second, then to Gwen Stefani the next. There's something quite wrong with that transition in my mind.

Now, to the review...

In the Ever is Mason's latest release and his first on Brushfire Records. With this album, his second that hasn't been self-released, we see Mason take a step back from what we heard on Boneclouds. Gone is the lush, full band sound that has slowly been building with each previous release. Instead we find Mason stripping it down to the basics for one of his rawest-sounding releases yet.

I'll admit, at first listen I was very disappointed with the album. I fell in love with Boneclouds because of the exquisite songwriting and that full band sound I'd been waiting for. I was expecting much of the same, especially after hearing Fighter Girl.

After a few listens I let go of my prior expectations and let myself listen to what the album was rather than what I wanted it to be. Once I took these steps I was quite pleased with what I heard. I found an album that is quite possibly Mason's most personal and features his strongest lyrical content to date.

A few tracks that really hit home come early with Something About Your Love and I Love You and Buddha Too. Mason has written some beautiful love songs over the past few years and Something About Your Love goes right up there with songs like Ballad for My One True Love and Be Here Now. I Love You and Buddha Too explores religious tolerance in a light hearted way that just may be the best way to get the point across.

We also have the patented sing-alongs that Mason writes best with Fighter Girl and Soldier Boy. I saw Mason live before I ever really heard his recorded material so these are still the songs that scream "MASON!!" to me. Soldier Boy is the only spot we hear an electric guitar on the album and Fighter Girl has the "yeah, yeah yeahs" that will stick in your head all night long.

Only one track feels "weak" to me and it comes at track 5. Your New Man is a funny story but I'm not sure that it reaches the level of the rest of the album. It feels more like something Mason wrote and threw away back when he was releasing his self-titled album but decided to throw in here for one reason or another. It feels a little out of place compared to the rest of the album.

If I'm describing In the Ever with one word I suppose I'd have to pick "personal". The album is quiet, extremely acoustic-driven and way more lo-fi than anything we've heard from Mason in a good while. If you're expecting a sequel to Boneclouds then you should look elsewhere. However, if you're looking for an album that you can sit down and truly explore then look no further. I'd recommend picking this up if you're into the singer-songwriter scene or if you have any of Mason's previous work. The only caveat - be sure to give it more than one listen through, you'll find this is a grower.

[mp3] Fighter Girl
[mp3] Soldier Boy

Buy the album: Amazon | iTunes

Visit Mason online: Official | Myspace
Buy his music: Amazon | iTunes