I’ve of two minds when it comes to writing about Mason’s new releases; sometimes I do it immediately, because they evince such a flood of feelings in me, and sometimes I drag my feet about it, because they evince such a flood of feelings in me. Minnesota, which came out a few weeks ago, is obviously one of the latter albums.
First off, it’s a gorgeous, subtle album — it opens with “Bitter Heart”, which is all strings and piano and sad love song, and it continues with more piano and another lonely, aching love song in “Raindrops On The Kitchen Floor”. I’ve been pretty vocal over the years about how I feel on the subject of Mason’s piano playing — I refer to Century Spring as his “unfortunate Rufus Wainwright period” — but it works on Minnesota in a way it never has before. It’s a stripped down and simple album, like the self-titled and Use Your Voice, where the songwriting is at the core of what’s best about it.
And for me, the songwriting has always been the best of what Mason does. Piano, guitar, he could take up the theremin and write an epic based on the Northfield phone book, and if it was clever and it resonated in my heart, I would love it. I’ve loved Mason since I was 18 years old, and I probably always will. Minnesota gets right at what I’ve always loved best, though, and that’s those lonely love songs. Every song, even the glorious ones about loving and being loved like “Well Of Love”, is a lonely love song. They’re songs about being separated from the people you love, friends and family and lovers, and Mason manages to have recorded an album full of those songs without once breaking my heart. Even “Clutch”, with its melancholy open and close counterpointed to the happy memories horns and drums choruses, is wistful without being twee, and the strange surreality of “Witches Dream” actually fits as the turning point at the center of the album, segueing perfectly into the minor key history of “Rudy”.
I wouldn’t say to people who’ve never listened to Mason Jennings, pick up this album. I think you have to come to it by knowing what comes first, and the self-titled, Use Your Voice and Boneclouds will always come first on my list to recommend. But if you know him, if you have loved him and listened to him grow as a songwriter and arranger over all these years, this album is a gem. It was, as Mason has always done for me, the perfect album at the perfect time. It was just what I needed.