CD Review: Mason Jennings, In the Ever
The new record by Mason Jennings really snuck up on me. Which is unusual, since at one time I considered myself to be a die-hard Mason fan. But this time around, I barely heard anything about his new record, save for the incessant spinning of new single "Fighter Girl" on 89.3 The Current, and was shocked when I learned yesterday that it was already available in stores. (The record is also available to stream online for free from Spinner.com .)
With every new Mason Jennings recording my fanaticism decreases, and this album did nothing to regain my confidence in a songwriter whom I once thought to be life-changing.
Which isn't to say that In the Ever is all bad. In fact, there are three songs in particular that stand up to some of his best work. The problem, however, is that the album is hit-and-miss, and when it's bad, it's really bad. Case in point: "I Love You and Buddha Too." In a segment he recorded for Current TV, Jennings says that he has read all of the different religious texts in an attempt to understand why people place such high importance on them, especially the Bible:
As a concept, this kind of intellectual, spiritual searching should make worthwhile fodder for introspective folk songs. But on "I Love You and Buddha Too," Jennings sounds more like Raffi than Iron and Wine. Set to a thumping guitar strum, Jennings and Brushfire Records label head Jack Johnson sing cringe-worthy lyrics about loving the "un-namable and unknowable" God. For example: "Is the universe your thought / You are and you are not / You are many, you are one / Ever ending just begun."
It's unfortunate. Especially because the last time Jennings wandered into spiritual territory was in "Jesus Are You Real," the closing track on 2006's Boneclouds, and it was an epic 17-verse song exploring the questions that arise on the path to spiritual enlightenment. "I Love You and Buddha Too" is a disappointment, considering that Jennings has proven his proficiency for these kinds of songs in the past.
But as I mentioned, it's not all bad. "Your New Man" is a tongue-and-cheek solo acoustic number that was recorded live, showcasing a more sarcastic, light-hearted Mason and recalling the silliness of his old fan favorite "Bullet." On "Going Back to New Orleans," the hum of a lightly-blown harmonica and the boom-chick of an echoing drum set create the sound of a train rolling by, while "In Your City" showcases Jennings's increasing knack for writing songs on the piano -- the song sounds like it could be a B-side to Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind."
And there are plenty of average songs filling out the rest of the album. Many of the quieter songs find Jennings trying to explain to his wife exactly how much he loves her, which ironically come across as some of the least passionate -- fluffy and dreamy, these ballads sound hyperbolic, nothing like the old Mason who could spend three verses describing the way a room felt as he woke up next to his lover. The single, "Fighter Girl," sounds like a rip-off of his Boneclouds single "Be Here Now," seemingly employing the same chord progressions, melody and production values.
In the end, the album is a disappointment for longstanding fans. Just like I know I will never get the chance to see Jennings play a coffee shop again, I fear that the days of front-to-back high-caliber Mason Jennings albums may have passed.
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