CD Use Your Voice (CD 251205),
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Use Your Voice

  • 1. Crown
    2. Light, Pt. 2, The
    3. Empire Builder
    4. Fourteen Pictures
    5. Lemon Grove Avenue
    6. Keepin It Real
    7. Ballad of Paul and Sheila
    8. Southern Cross
    9. Drinking as Religion
    10. Ulysses
  • Additional Info
    Manufacturer Part Number (MPN): 151

  • Credits
    ProducerMason Jennings
    EngineerTom Garneau

    Personnel: Mason Jennings (vocals, guitar, harmonica); Amy Jennings (vocals); Chris Morrissey (bass, upright bass); Brian McLeod (drums).
    Personnel: Mason Jennings (vocals, guitar, harmonica); Chris Morrissey (upright bass, electric bass); Brian McCleod (drums).
    Audio Mixer: Tom Garneau.
    Liner Note Author: Jim Walsh.
    Recording information: Terrarium, Minneapolis, MN.
    Photographer: Andy Grund.
    This fifth outing by songwriter Mason Jennings is a down-to-the-floorboards recording of quiet dignity, humorous grace, and elegant craft. Use Your Voice is an acoustic guitar, bass, and drums affair that feels like it was recorded live from the studio floor (just a short dance step away from his debut living-room record in 1998). Use Your Voice's sound is gorgeous; its warm and inviting ambience is similar to the timeless sound found on Paul Burch's records. It could have been recorded in the '50s, it might have been recorded in the 1960s, but it sounds completely contemporary. The reason for mentioning the production is simple: it was wise choice to keep everything unnecessary from a collection of songs this intimate and inspired. The title is not a statement in the anthemic sense, but in a conversational one. It means, at least according to the small truth as revealed in these songs, "Become a part of the discussion; it needs you." Jennings' folk roots reside deeper in the restless heart of country music and the folk-blues of Tampa Red, Gary Davis, and Lonnie Johnson than they do in the current narcissistic club of contemporary singer/songwriters. Whether it's in the slippery rag blues of "Empire Builder," the harmonica-drenched country shuffle of "Crown," or the shimmering brushes and Travis-style fingerpicking on the gorgeous "The Light, Pt. 2," the effect is the same: Jennings is sitting down for a conversation on the topics in his mind stream and it's far from one-sided.
    His sense of place and his emotional clarity are startling on cuts like "Lemon Grove Avenue" and the heartbreakingly tender, strange small-town pathos of "Ballad of Paul and Sheila." On "Southern Cross," dislocation and displacement become the occasion for epiphany in an all but empty motel room as a paean to the absent Beloved. Jennings, despite his tender age, belongs in the company of Greg Brown, Bo Ramsey, and former Midwesterner Joe Henry. His music sounds nothing like theirs, but his center, his root of expression, comes from the same desire to look at the small, seemingly insignificant details and realize their meaning as a means of speaking with, not to, an audience. As such, he is in a league of his own. The only flaw on this record is on the sleeve: Jim Walsh's turgid, self-indulgent liner notes (nearly half of which are about his yoga practice instead of his subject) nearly put a potential listener off the record; they belong in a diary, not on this sleeve. Use Your Voice is a deeply moving record that, in its small scope, offers a very focused and far-reaching vision; it communicates directly, and quietly, to what is most receptive in everyone without the artifice of sentimentality or lyrically manipulative posturing. ~ Thom Jurek

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