erasing clouds

Jason Anderson, The Wreath

review by dave heaton

Jason Anderson is sincerely enthusiastic about being able to create music and share it with people, and that energy is infectious. At the beginning of the year he played two shows here in Philadelphia – one night standing alone on a chair in a community space, the next fronting a full band in a tiny basement – that were without a doubt two of the best, most inspiring performances I've seen by any musician ever.

His last album New England starts off with a song that I find just as inspiring, with the memorable line "and life is so incredible / inspiring and terrible / but mostly fucking wonderful." His latest album The Wreath, released earlier this year, starts off on a note that's less exuberant: "Oh Jac / there is a cloud about us / there is an albatross / there is a yolk." That cloud, that grey winter feeling dominates The Wreath, a stirring and ultimately moving and life-affirming album which tells the story of a heart in limbo.

The "albatross" on that opening track ("O Jac!") is further described as "a bracelet / a noose / a millstone of expectation." A nervousness about what's coming next, about what to do or not to, runs through that song and into all of the rest. Anderson voices a 'Should I / Shouldn't I' sort of stasis, and a constant probing into what happened in the past, and multiple 'what might happen ifs' for the future. On The Wreath he's probing into life and the world around us as bravely and incisively as on New England, and is armed with just as perfect melodies and in places even lovelier song arrangements. But the focus here is generally inward. The songs represent an inner dialogue, with backing vocalist Rachel Jensen's lovely voice often serving as the inner voice of support and reason, the voice that soothes as other voices worry and question.

Songs like "If I'm Waiting", "My Balancing Act" and "Theory and Practice" capture this inner questioning in a way that's both sincere and poetic (witness lines like "my Houdini lover you've escaped and vanished / the Bermuda triangle sunk to Atlantis"). Thoughts like "I've been trying to decide / I've been trying to be sure" epitomize this struggle, as piano, acoustic guitars, and other wonderfully arranged instruments support the bittersweet nature of indecision and uncertainty regarding matters of the heart.

About halfway through the album, Rachel Jensen's reassuring words "you're trying so hard" on the gorgeous "Theory and Practice" seem to push the song's narrator in a somewhat more confident direction for the next couple songs, though they still bear the mark of nervousness. Things get more dour again for "I Was Wrong" – an expression of extreme confusion and anxiety ("those phone calls started to feel like drowning"), but then "The Hospital"'s stirring conversation between Anderson's main vocals and Jensen's supporting vocals ("wait for the one you love, it's me") give way to the album's perfect conclusion, "When Will You Say." This impassioned love song is our uncertain narrator finding the confidence to accept his feelings of love and express them, loud and clear. "Hallelujah I love you!," he sings, also acknowledging that millions of love songs have been sung by millions of people before, enough times for the words to become clichés, but this is different, because he means every word. The song ends The Wreath on a soul-stirring note of presence and confrontation, a call to embrace life that still carries with it the knowledge that we all hurt, that we all are confused pretty much all of the time, but that that shouldn't get in our way.

{Note: Jason Anderson is on tour, with Kimya Dawson and with Strand of Oaks (also serving as his backing band). Check out tour dates at his web site or at the K Records web site.}

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