I’ve been giddy for this record ever since I first caught wind of it – it’s a collection of some of Mason Jenning’s oldest material, dating back to around ’98-â€˜99 when he was just gaining a following around the Minneapolis folk scene. 2002’s Simple Life (also a great record) was a similar project, pulling from the same well of songs as this one – the biggest difference being that where Simple Life collected many of Mason’s attempts at classic folk traditions (brief vignettes and longer narratives), this set of songs seems to be more autobiographical, focusing on Mason’s own experiences as a young musician moving to Minnesota. It’s a time capsule of sorts, revealing a little bit more of the younger Mason than we’ve ever seen on record before.
One of the first things I noticed is that for a collection of what could be considered “formative songs”, it’s apparent that Mason was already fairly fully formed by the time he wrote them. These are fantastic songs, well-written and well-executed – from the opening chug of “Dakota” right through to the languid closer “Method to my Madness”. In between are some love songs, some touching confessionals, a boozy boast that could’ve been one of Jim Croce’s own, and even an ode to his father in “Michael’s Song”.
I’ve heard about half of these songs on various old live recordings before, and two of my favorites, “The Magician” and “Better Than That” show up here, both sounding as good as ever. Of the songs I’d never heard before I’m especially enjoying the tender “Between the Lines”, as well as “The Villain”. The only odd-one-out of the bunch is “So Many Ways To Die”, since it was written just recently while Mason was working on songs for the 180 Degrees South soundtrack – while it clearly belongs to a different era, it’s still a fun little number in the vein of In The Ever’s “Your New Man”. One of the stand-outs is the title track, a perfect distillation of how good Mason’s songwriting can be, then or ever: “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”.
There are several reasons why Mason Jennings is one of my favorite songwriters making music today, and this record has 15 of them. You can get it right now on itunes, or if you’re a physical media nerd (like me) make sure to pick it up tomorrow!
If you’re a real nerd (again, like me), go HERE to order a special limited-edition CD pack, which includes a digital download and a signed postcard from Mason. There’s only 250 of them (well, 249 if you subtract mine), so act fast!
Tags: Mason Jennings