Today, we reach Mason Jennings’ fourth album, Use Your Voice. It’s a nice album. But I don’t think it is as strong as the earlier albums. Thom Jurek at All Music appears to disagree with me. I haven’t read his review, but I saw he gave the album four and a half stars. If you know All Music at all, you know that four and a half stars is what they give to albums that they think are masterpieces, but which are not universally acknowledged as masterpieces. So The Beatles’ Rubber Soul gets five stars, but American Music Club’s United Kingdom only gets four and half stars. It’s strange, but I’ve noticed it again and again. It isn’t an accident.
Anyway, I can see giving Use Your Voice four and a half stars because it is a very pleasant album. But mostly I just want Mason Jennings to get over that woman who dumped him. There’s just far too much of that. However, one of those songs, “Fourteen Pictures,” is transcendent. These are great lyrics:
Fourteen pictures and there’ll be no more
Little magnets hold up a family…
You don’t need the rest of the song with lyrics that evocative.
There’s also a flat out love song in “Empire Builder” that even makes me think that love may be a real thing. And then he does “Keepin It Real” just to remind me what a fraud love and love songs are, even if I do like the guitar solo.
In a sense, the high point of the album is “Ballad Of Paul And Sheila,” about Paul Wellstone and his wife Sheila’s death in a plane crash. It is a fitting tribute to a great statesman. You should really listen to it.
But the last three songs on the album are different and I wonder if this is the direction that he was headed in. They aren’t especially about anything. Or, most likely, they are so personal that I can’t understand them. But they speak to a man who is searching. And that’s when people create their greatest art. So off of Use Your Voice, I’ve decided to highlight “Drinking as Religion.”