Friday, November 20, 2009

Mason Jennings has a lot to say.

When Mason Jennings sings, he doesn't just sing with his voice; he sings with his heart. Whether he's on a folk kick or in a rock mood, listening to him is an intimate experience.

The Minnesota native is not just a musician. He is an agent for peace, a humanitarian, a husband and a father. As he maintains his humility, his spirit comes alive through his music.

Since his album Blood of Man was released in September, he has been touring with his new band, made up of close friends.

Although Jennings has played the majority of his career solo and records all the instrumentation on his studio tracks, his new dynamic is more of a rock show than anything else. There will be electric guitar and bass players, along with a variety of drums on stage.

"It's more expandable," Jennings said of the new setup. "They all bring their own personality."

Blood of Man provided an opportunity for Jennings to unleash his rock persona, inspired by his son's curiosity about the electric guitar. He describes his songs as dark and joyful at the same time.

The guitar, piano, harmonica and drums were all done personally by Jennings.

"It's an extension of what I do," Jennings said. "Just a little more raw."

For now, Jennings is just enjoying his new sound on tour. Musically, Jennings said his inspiration comes from a combination of new experiences on the road, the people around him every day and whatever resonates with him at the time. The songwriting comes when he's off the road and has time to get quiet in his studio and "let it flow."

Jennings' shows take up all his energy when he's on the road, he said. His tour ends on Thanksgiving and he'll be home for the next three months, ready to immerse himself in new record ideas.

"It really depends on what I'm interested in hearing," he said, "Some days, I wake up and want to hear aggressive music."

"I want to do both polarities — the intimate stuff and then the rock," Jennings said. "I like when shows are changing throughout the night."

Whatever mood Jennings might be in, expect to hear quality music. His sounds will leave you electrically charged and acoustically vulnerable. It's really the intimacy he creates that draws people to him.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Devendra Banhart continues to suprise and enlighten.

Devendra Banhart is not average by any means. Born in Houston and raised in Venezuela, it is clear he evolved as a musician from a plethora of ethnic influences. Although you might not understand everything he is saying, his sixth album is intriguing, eclectic and liberating.

Released Oct. 23 by Reprise Records, What Will We Be, showcases Banhart's mysterious persona that rises out of his stream-of-consciousness lyrics and shaky vocals.

Straight out of the "New Weird America" movement, Banhart challenges traditions with his multi-dimensional genre-proof songs. As he alternates between Spanish and English, it is clear Banhart possesses a deep connection to the universe that many people lack.

Using repetition throughout his songs is one element Banhart incorporates to emphasize the importance of his lyrics. In "Meet Me At Lookout Point," he repeats, "My heart will find you," displaying much sincerity and enthusiasm.

Indie, reggae, rock, tribal or freak-folk music — whatever you want to call it, Banhart's musical adventures allow us to explore ideas inside of us that are otherwise suppressed.

With lyrics about dancing, horses and renaissance fairs, Banhart reveals his eccentricity as a songwriter. It is a surreal experience to be surprised with every track, similar to that of his past two acclaimed albums, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon (2007) and Cripple Crow (2005).

Although it is difficult to decipher his lyrics or gage Banhart's emotions, you can grasp his intentions for living in his music. Asking questions about the world, loving those around you and taking the time to celebrate life are essential parts of his life.

Throughout the track "Maria Lionza," Banhart sings "Who do you love?" An advocate for self-reflection, you can't help but think about the question the same way you can't help but sway to the relaxing sounds.

Banhart's instrumentation is mostly a calming background that supports his vocals, which dictate the mood of the track. You might hear rock. You might hear reggae.

It might take a couple of listens to understand the true freak-folk beauty of What Will We Be but have some patience, and you will come to appreciate Banhart's emotional spectrum and experimental nuance.

As Banhart says in the track "Baby," you will be saying "Holy moley" after becoming involved with the album.