As a label, Anti-Corporate Music brings an abundance of volume and crusty intensity to the music world, but today I’m documenting my thoughts on the latest in their singer/songwriter folk-themed series, The Magnolia Sessions. I recently reviewed the first, by multi-instrumentalist Matt Heckler, and this second title is from bluegrass/country/folk artist Jason Dea West. It’s available now, and charting well in the Billboard Bluegrass Charts.
As before, it’s an album recorded outdoors, live and raw, with the night-time Tennessee insects as the main audience. It’s engineered again by Dan Emery, and for those with the interest or relevant expertise, he gives a few details about the recording gear on the Anti-Corporate website. The warmth, immediacy, and clarity is just as noteworthy in this second session as it was in the first, so if you’re interested in recording techniques, take notes.
The performance itself features Jason Dea West on vocals, harmonica, and a gorgeous looking resonator guitar. He also plays a kick drum, and it’s nicely understated, to the point that I didn’t even notice it was there on my first listen. West’s vocals are in that high, clear range so typical of bluegrass singers, even when the music heads towards country or blues. His old friend Benjamin Tod of the Lost Dog Street Band contributes extra vocals and banjo on the last few tracks.
The album starts with a dark and driving country feel in Build Me A Lover. West plays a chugging rhythm on the resonator, with a harmonica melody slithering and dancing over the top. Even with that driving rhythm, the resonator bubbles and sparkles like a mountain creek.
Soon enough the vocals arrive, clear and plaintive, and with them, a first taste of the lyrical themes of the album. Through the course of the album, you’ll hear stories of love and loneliness, of travelling and tramping, hard work and hard times, but they never come across to me as tales of woe. There’s no hopelessness or despair here – mostly a cheery pragmatism.
It’s simple, evocative music, presented unadorned and direct…
As the album moves on, you’ll also hear a variety of tempos and styles. The tempo drops to a laid-back shuffle with second tune Lone Wolf, a declaration, almost a manifesto, of hard work and solitude. Roll Home Lucinda is light and gentle, a tender love song.
West delivers a delicately picked ballad in Make A New Start, then gives a brief verbal introduction before launching into a bouncing blues rag in Country Livin’ Blues. That spoken intro is a nice touch, and I wish there were more of them included in the recording. If they’re done well, they can be as much fun as the music.
Now on the tail end of the album, West gives a quick instruction and counts in, giving us the first indication that there’s another artist present. Sure enough, now the resonator is joined by the strident twang of a banjo. There’s a tense rhythm and a dark countryish feel in California Way, and both instruments are more in their lower registers. Likewise in the mournful waltz of Dreams Ain’t My Own. This one seems to be the darkest song lyrically: ‘Lately I’ve been feeling so God-damned depressed.’ It’s a tough one to listen to.
The closer is achingly beautiful. I’ll Be Here In The Morning, originally by Townes Van Zandt, gets a simple and direct treatment with harmony vocals and restrained instruments. The ramblin’ man promises he’ll be there in the morning, but do you believe him, or is the call of the road too great? Is it written to a lover, or a child? These are my questions, but the answers are immaterial – we all have to face our heartaches in our own way. The reason this song, this whole album, works is that the emotional content is both completely personal and utterly universal.
So they’ve done it once again folks – two albums in, and all indications are that you just can’t go wrong with The Magnolia Sessions. It’s simple, evocative music, presented unadorned and direct. Looking forward to more.
Scribed by: Rob Bryant