July 7, 2007
By ROSALEEN TORREY
The term “eclectic” doesn’t really do justice to Jason Spooner’s The Flame You Follow. The genre-spanning follow-up to 2002’s Lost Houses is more than a loose collection of songs; it’s an exploration of a theme. Over the course of the album, through imagery, texture, and story, light does battle with darkness, culminating in the final track, the bittersweet “Hover.”
Jason Spooner is nothing if not an ambitious songwriter. Along with drummer Reed Chambers and bassist Andy Rice of The Jason Spooner Trio, the Portland singer/songwriter navigates between folk, jazz, pop, funk, and R&B — sometimes, in the course of a single song. His soulful vocals tackle lyrics about death, danger, and the desire to escape, but despite the meatiness of the themes, the songs refuse to wallow in melodrama. For instance, the folk ballad “All That We Know,” which recounts the story of a robbery attempt that ends in tragedy, is bolstered by a fast-paced, rollicking rhythm.
A host of guest performers lend their talents to the CD. It’s fun to hear Ryan Zoidus (of Rustic Overtones fame) wield his saxophone in the funky “Simple Life.” The groovy swirl of harmonizing vocals, courtesy of singer/songwriter Kim Taylor, is the highlight of “Slippery People.” However, some of Spooner’s best songs are the simple ones. In the folk-poppy “Mirror This Morning,” everyday themes — love, loss, and coffeemakers — lilt over an effortless melody, capturing the details so well that no grand gestures seem necessary.
The Flame You Follow has its quirks as well. The genre-hopping might be jarring to those who define their musical tastes according to style; fans of raw, unfiltered passion best look elsewhere. But, all in all, Spooner is a thought-provoking songwriter and, if only for that reason alone, his sophomore effort is worth a whirl.