Mason Jennings has "gone electric" with his latest album, Blood of Man (on Jack Johnson's Brushfire label), though you'd hardly notice from the local-radio hit "The Field," which has the lonely amplified strum and echo of early Billy Bragg, a Pennsylvania accent in place of an Essex one. The song is a political point made poignant in narrative, a trick Bragg never quite managed, sung from the point of view of someone who has lost a grown child fighting in Iraq ("Sometimes late at night/I go to the field/Is that where you are?/Are you a shooting star?"), her grief finally turning on the war itself: "I don't want no victory, I just want you back." Like any Minnesota artist popular enough to headline First Avenue more than once a season, Jennings has detractors, and you can imagine them resisting this tune's for-the-throat emotionalism, length, and repetitive catchiness (he found a wider audience 10 years ago doing something similar with "Rebecca Deville"), or the simplicity that divides the world into those who want victory and those who experience loss. Yet there is something undeniable in that equation, at the gut level where pop operates, and in Jennings himself. A less earnest or reflective new-Dylan could never have been so moving paying tribute to partnership ("Confidant"), the Wellstones ("Ballad of Paul and Sheila"), or unplanned parenthood ("Which Way Your Heart Will Go"—which deserved a better movie than Ghost Town). His latest live band might be his best ever. With the Pines.
Sat., Dec. 19, 6 p.m., 2009