Mason Jennings has “Always Been” Using His Voice

10 Jan

Mason Jennings

 

The first song I ever heard from Mason Jennings was “Ballad of Paul and Sheila” off of Jennings’ fourth album Use Your Voice released in 2004. The incipient picked chord progression piqued my interest and Jennings’ commanding and delicate croon hooked me. It was only a bit later that I learned that the song was dedicated to Minnesota senator Paul Wellstone and his wife Sheila who died in a plane crash in 2002 (Wellstone was a strong advocate for peace and social advocacy and was the only senator facing reelection to vote against the Iraq war) – I was 14 and not that up on politics at the time! The simplicity of the memorial lyric stuck me to the music of Mason Jennings for good, and 10 years later Jennings is still creating exceptional acoustic music and flying under the radar when he should most definitely be soaring among the most renowned folk artists today.

Aside from “Ballad of Paul and Sheila” my favorite Jennings song is “Jackson Square,” which is perhaps Jennings finest moment as a sad raconteur. The song is one of the finest examples of a lyrical story. You can check out the lyrics by following that link, and I also urge you to listen to the song.

I tell you all of this because Ritter released Always Been back in November of 2013, and for me it was his best release since In The Ever, which he released back in 2008. Always Been put him in double digits for albums with original content (not including The Flood), and is demonstrative of an artist who just continues to create multifarious content that still harbors the impressive emotional appeal, as if each song is a track created just for the listener. Good artists are able to create this feeling for a few songs, but great artists like Mason Jennings do this consistently, and Jennings has done it since the late 90s. Hence why I am always shocked that more listeners are not aware of his aptitude.

Jennings was born in the Aloha state but moved with his family to Pittsburgh at an early age (quite the unfortunate move if you ask me). He learned to play the guitar, dropped out of High School, and toured the U.S. gathering stories and experiences that he would use to script his first foray into music. After settling in Minnesota to produce music, Jennings started to churn out album after album of songs rife with political activism, first-person narratives, and emotional tributes. While narrowing in on his identity, his music became tighter. Now, nearing 20 years as an artist, Jennings is masterful. His effervescent songs can liven up any room and his minimalistic singer/songwriter pieces carry an innocence and ardor that affects listeners.

Always Been is most similar to Bone Clouds, Jennings most potent release. The song are riveting and each one has a distinct Jennings flavor that captures the attention of the listener. Jennings has been working on an expanded, fuller sound that is recognizable with this release. While he still is able to garner the solo drawn, his other tracks maintain a jauntiness that complements his storyteller vocal. A great example of this is “Wilderness.”

“Dreaming” is a more traditional Ritter track, although it is almost like a folk lullaby. Plus, tell me the falsetto “dreaming” in the second chorus isn’t just sweet. It’s impressive. The short piece is stripped down in this live recording (a little different than the studio version). Ultimately, although I hate the word, it is a nice song.

Check out the full album on Mason Jennings’ website and check him out on tour.

Tour Dates

 

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