The latest release from Minnesota folk jongleur Mason Jennings is a blast-from-the-past episode and debuted #1 on iTunes’ singer/songwriter chart. The album is comprised of once forgotten and unrecorded songs that date as far back as 1993. Unlike his last two Albums which were released under Jack Johnson’s record label Brushfire Records, The Flood was released on Mason’s own label Stat’s and Brackets.
There is a bit of a story as to how the album came to be. Last winter an old friend contacted Mason and queried about a cassette tape of his music that he made in the early 90’s that she loved so much. She was able to name titles of songs on the tape that Mason had no recollection of whatsoever. Her intention was to get a copy of the tape because she had lost hers. The particular tape she was looking for was labeled only by “1993”. The only memory Mason had of this was a radio shack cassette recorder he bought when he moved to the Twin Cities from Pittsburgh. So Mason had his father send him a box of all his old cassette tapes and sure enough in the bunch, he found “1993”. Among the songs on the tape were songs he has since recorded and released along with many songs he had forgotten about but fell back in love with. He decided to strip them down and re-record them conceiving The Flood.
After his latest album Blood of Man, which allowed Jennings to tap into his dark side and wield and electric guitar, he returns to his bread and butter—just acoustic guitar and his voice. It reminds us that he doesn’t need much more than a story, acoustic hook, and a comforting melody.
This album is aimed at the fans that have followed him for quite some time as he dips back into the sounds of his early albums Birds Flying Away and Simple Life. This album exposes Mason as how he was in the early 90s while aspiring to be a musician. He doesn’t try to be anything other than what he is. It is purely bare bones and simple. This approach can and will turn a lot of people off. It’s a different avenue in the intricate world of Folk. New fans of Mason Jennings might be disappointed. However, they cannot then understand that albums like this make him the story teller he is. Compare this album to his last and you will find out that this man is more than capable of rocking out and getting your blood pumping, but The Flood is the fresh breath he takes to ground himself and get back to what feels best. Each song has that raw and intimate sound as if he is playing just for the listener.
The songs on this album act as sort of a time capsule to give us a glimpse of Mason on his experience moving across country and growing as a musician. The songs reveal that he was remarkably formed as a songwriter at the age when he wrote them. The album jumps off with the opening track Dakota carrying and eerie melody and a story of a homecoming. It proves to be the most single-worthy song on the album. The middle of the album boasts another victorious attempt at a love song. Mason has gone on record admitting that he still pursues the “perfect love song”. The approach he takes on The Villain is a retrospective view on a relationship that he can’t get over. With lyrics that can stop you cold in your tracks like “At least you don’t write me/At least you don’t call/At least you don’t lend me/Any hope at all” that can be all too familiar to someone trying to move on from their former significant other.
The album is rounded out by some tender confessionals, fun little numbers and even an ode to his father in Michael’s Song, where he praises his father for “staying behind” him. However, the title track seems to be the trophy of the album. Lyrically the track is a cleansing reminder of how brilliant Mason’s songwriting abilities are: “laid back down with my eyes closed/I let all the air out of my nose/I let all my dirt melt to glorious mud/and smiled for a while six feet under the flood”.
Mason Jennings may be “under the radar” to the mainstream scene but to the scene that knows him; he has continued to produce quality music, tell stories, and strike a chord in the heart of the folk nation.
By Jim Sobie
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