Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Jason Anderson - The Hopeful and the Unafraid

Jason Anderson
The Hopeful and the Unafraid (K Records, 2008)
Grade: A-

Download: Jason Anderson - "This Will Never Be Our Town"
Download: Jason Anderson - "July 4th, 2004"

As the Onion A.V. Club observes, the title of the new Jason Anderson album makes you want to punch him in the teeth. But, after seeing him live a few times and thoroughly enjoying The Wreath and Tonight, I decided to holster my fists and pick up The Hopeful and the Unafraid. I said this a couple years back (when MFR was Sliver Magazine), but I always forget how much I enjoy the energetic folkster the second I turn his record off. His latest effort, however, is an entirely different story.

Anderson’s live show is what makes him stand out from the rest of his contemporaries, and The Hopeful and the Unafraid captures the campfire sing-along atmosphere at his live shows much more faithfully than The Wreath did. The success of Anderson’s new album can probably be summed up in one word: Bruuuuuuccccccceeeee. Much more so than on The Wreath, Anderson infuses his wide-eyed, slightly meandering folk with the focus and drive of Springsteen's romantic classic rock. The greater presence of more uptempo elements into his music helps to center and charge his sound, closely echoing the enthusiasm of his live show.

In addition to faster tempos, Anderson's vocals have evolved for the better . Far beyond the range of camp counselor-style jaunting excitement, Anderson has found his howl. And it is glorious. All full of pent-up energy and raw emotions – you can practically see sweat pouring down his neck, bouncing up and down with a beet-red face. (And if you see him live you will see them – I worry just a little about his blood pressure.) For example, "July 4th, 2004," is pushed from being a pretty good song to a fucking brilliant song by simple virtue of having key phrases and emotions tagged with poignant shouts.

This record's great success is moving Jason Anderson from a place where he's easily written off as another dude with a guitar into a more distinct personal realm. It's great failure is the track "Colonial Homes", which I have awarded the dubious honor of de-selecting on iTunes, that I may never be accosted by it during a Jason Anderson marathon or when my computer is on shuffle. As on The Wreath, Anderson's piano-heavy ballads are his weakest. Lacking in energy is a bad enough quality, but Anderson tops it by singing in this weird, pseudo-operatic style that grates at my nerves.

But hey, an album's failings being encapsulated in one song isn't so bad. The Hopeful and the Unafraid, despite its title, is one this year's best albums from one of the most likeable guys in folk.

Jason Anderson MySpace Page

(April Wright)

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