CD REVIEW: Mason Jennings "Blood Of Man"

Mason Jennings' latest album is by far his most interesting and unique to date. With six discs already under his belt, it comes as no surprise that Jennings would want to show off a different side, to keep the freshness in his music. He is known for his unique voice and vocal delivery, his outstanding songwriting, and his mellow folk sound, so it's certainly a departure to lay down the acoustic for an electric guitar and write some heavy rockers. "Ain't No Friend Of Mine," the debut single, is the hardest of the whole entire disc with crunchy guitars and a heavy vocal thump. The hardness in the sound doesn't always come from Mason's electric guitar. Sometimes the hard edge in the music is found within the lyrics. Many of the tracks have much less of a happy-go-lucky feel to them than in Jennings' previous work. Not since his second album has the lyrical content flirted this closely with darker, more negative topics, particularly the childhood memories in "Pittsburgh." "The Field" is an anti-war protest song, and possibly one of the best ever written. The theme of blood is all over the album, particularly in "Ain't No Friend Of Mine," "Black Wind Blowing," and "Sing Out." The true Mason Jennings comes through on tracks like "Sunlight" (a song that was released as a charity single over the summer) which follow along his standard formula and his acoustic sees the light of day on the title track which closes out the disc. There is a rawness and an organic feel to the collection. Mason played all the instruments as well as produced and recorded the album himself. He even left in all the feedback and little nuances that make the recording special, so the listener can hear is as it was meant to be. By far a true gem in the Mason Jennings arsenal, this album is one of his best. It will be interesting to see how the songs hold up and translate into his live arrangements. One thing is for sure, Mason Jennings can definitely rock! Who knew!?

CD REVIEW: Joshua James "Build Me This"

This is the album that will put Joshua James on everyone's map. He gained critical acclaim with his last album, however, on this one he really shows off the kind of musician he really is. On the heels of the success of artists like My Morning Jacket, Conor Oberst, and M. Ward (and now their supergroup, Monsters Of Folk), Joshua James proves that he can rub shoulders with any established Midwest folkie. Some of the better songs on the album are "Coal War" and "Magazine" where he combines his ability to write a pop song with his rootsy flavor. This album is rooted in gospel and good old small town folk music. Probably the best song on the disc is "In The Middle" where James shows off his songwriting skills as a storyteller, with a song spoken to a lost love who has passed on. Its got energy in all the right places, yet remains quaint and grounded as well. Joshua James surely is one of this generation's greatest folk singers and his latest effort is proof of that.