June 25, 2007
By BOB MCKILLOP
The New England folk music scene is well known for its community of
literate songwriters like Ellis Paul, Dar Williams, and more
recently, Mark Erelli and Lori McKenna. I love these folks for their
solid stories, clear themes, and tight song structures that touch me
in ways that I understand.
Jason Spooner has absolutely nothing in common with these folks
(except, of course, talent.)
Jason's new CD, "The Flame You Follow", is highly accessible and
enjoyable. The songs have plenty of beats that will get you dancing,
vocal and instrumental hooks to keep you interested, and lots of
tasty lyrical treats that you can sing along with.
But on a different level, Jason's songs are mysterious, obtuse, and
spooky. There's a story in them, but I might find a different one
than you do, and neither of us will find anything without some
serious archeology in our own experiential graveyard. Jason's songs
are keys to the locked trunks that hold the artifacts of our lives.
You can enjoy the music as top-shelf entertainment, but I guarantee
that you're going to want to come back and dig for the treasure.
Jason produced this record himself (he also produced his debut album
"Lost Houses".) He has done a great job - his use of instrumentation
and his arrangements drive the listener to a level of involvement
that is uncommon for a folk recording. I found it almost impossible
to relegate this album to "background music." I was constantly drawn
back into the music by the beat, the variety of the instrumental
tones, and the vocal landscapes. Kudos also to Jon Wyman and Adam
Ayan, for the technical quality of the mix and mastering
The intro on the opening track, "Black and Blue", pulls us
immediately into the album - a percussion fill begins with a tinny,
tapped-out tone that evolves into its full frequency timbre, with a
low end electronic tone coming out from behind it, until after four
bars, it dumps us into a simple acoustic back beat and drum shuffle.
The melody merely surfs the swells of the chord structure, but
Jason's vocal style provides the texture and punch that makes it
memorable. By the time we hit the lush, full chorus, we are fully
The title track, "The Flame You Follow", is jazz / funk / hip hop;
an irresistible beat chugs through the track, while Jason's smooth,
inflected vocals sound a little like Paul Simon, but more
transcendent. I loved listening to this song just for the way it
made me move my body. But, more than that, it is a great example of
the mystery in Jason's lyrics. I listened to this track, and studied
the lyrics for about a half hour; I finally decided that this tune
is about obsession:
"And it goes down smooth like a pill you swallow
To make you feel punch drunk, alone and hollow
Bright as the light of the flame you follow
Jason employs a lot of visual and physical cues to his themes, but
they are very difficult to tie together. It's sort of like the need
to stand back from a complex abstract painting, and let your vision
blur a little, in order to find some form in the image. If you let
the lyrics wash over you and don't focus too closely, they coalesce
into a context that means something to you.
"Fight the Fire" is a fun story song with great horns (Ryan Zoidis
on sax), Hammond organ, and some sort of synthesized bass work -
it's a great track. My take on this song is that it's about a mob
murder or shake down. There are lots of references to bodies
discovered, business deals, and neighbors paying attention to events
best ignored. Seems to me that someone's being leaned on.
"No, it aint' easy
What you've been going through
Oh, no, no one said it'd be easy...
What you wanna do?"
Kim Taylor is a rising star in the national singer/songwriter scene,
and she does some stellar backing vocal work on three of the tracks
on this disc, including a Talking Heads cover tune, "Slippery
People". She slips above and below Jason's vocal on that tune, a
husky, ethereal presence that slices through the mix like the sound
of two knives drawn against each other. But it's her work on the
final song on the album that really shines.
"Hover" is much more melodic than most of Jason's tunes. It's a very
nicely composed mix of guitar, piano (Karl Anderson), and strings
(Andy Rice and Andy Happel). This is a sad ballad of regret and pain
revolving around a relationship that has self-destructed in some
terrible way. The two lovers are stunned at how completely and
suddenly their love has been blown apart. They want to hold on to
the tenderness and sweetness that they had in the beginning.
Kim's solo vocal bridge is devastating in its sadness and nostalgia.
"Dance with me
Oh, and show me the man that you'll never be
Around in your juniper eyes
Safe from the faces beyond your disguise
And we can pretend that
It's all still the same
The sacred beginnings
And what we became
Free from your cages I've flown
Into the sun, away from the days we've known"
The Jason Spooner Band is Jason, Andy Rice, and Reed Chambers. They
are well known in and around Portland for being a hot bar band and a
lot of fun to listen to. That comes from playing together for so
long, from a love of performing, and from top-flight musicianship.
But anyone who puts Jason and this great band into that box hasn't
experienced the sophisticated songwriting, the great production
work, and the nuanced performances that are on this CD. Jason has
brought together a bunch of musical and technical professionals for
this project, and it shows. This is a great disc, and a major
evolution for Jason since his debut CD. "Lost Houses" was fun,
well-executed, enthusiastic, and maybe a little innocent. This
sophomore release is the real deal. I suggest that you make Jason
Spooner one of the musical flames that you follow.