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Mason Jennings

Blood of Man

[Brushfire; 2009]

By ; October 8, 2009 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

For much of his career, Mason Jennings’s body of work has been the type that would often feature a handful of great songs alongside a lot of filler. His albums invariably contained one absolutely killer song, a role “The Field” fills on Blood of Man, but too often Jennings fell short in fulfilling the promise of his early work. From the opening notes of Blood of Man, it’s apparent that this is not business as usual. There’s a new sense of primal urgency and yes, electric guitars, most noticeably on “Ain’t No Friend of Mine,” which recalls the Black Keys’ Hendrix-indebted blues rock. The album’s production is more lo-fi than any of his recent releases, but more than anything there’s a sense of rebirth in the subject matter as well as the delivery. Mason’s been releasing records for well over a decade now, and if there was ever a record that served to remind us why we started listening in the first place, Blood of Man is it.

Jennings’ lyrics speak of “blood on the door” and “blood on the wall” and from the sound of this record, there’s blood on the line as well. The singer-songwriter takes full control on Blood of Man, playing all of the instruments and recording everything himself much like he did on his 1997 debut EP, but the music here is much darker, recalling Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska both in approach and in subject matter. But where that record featured acoustic guitars and stories of closed factories and dead end small town America, Blood Of Man is plugged in and addresses war, suicide, murder and drugs. Like Springsteen, Jennings knows that with a heavy dose of doom and gloom you have to sprinkle in a little optimism, and it’s here in songs like “Tourist” and the first-childhood-kiss recollection of “Sunlight,” where “Minutes freeze like popsicles and drip their seconds down our shirts.”

This return to his roots shouldn’t be surprising to longtime fans. Jennings has always put his art first, not releasing his first EP until he was truly satisfied with it, painstakingly recording each part by himself in a run down apartment, and reportedly turning down major label recording contracts early on in favor of doing things his way without compromise. Blood of Man signifies a new direction for Jennings, whether he’ll continue down this path remains to be seen, but it’s clearly a career reset from a guy who could have been perfectly content making records like his last couple. Then again, great artists are never really content are they?


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