Usually when an artist makes an album celebrating how famous, successful, and happy they’ve become (ahem, Mike Skinner), it’s just not very good. It lacks the creative spark that comes from being lonely, drug-addicted, and depressed. So when singer-songwriter Mason Jennings announced an upcoming album about “home and heart,” I worried; especially since his last album, 2009’s Blood of Man, exemplified great songwriting as a result of anger and isolation. But Jennings has nine critically acclaimed albums under his belt for a reason: Even though Minnesota focuses on love and family, Jennings continues to scrutinize heartache and longing with his appealing, astute songwriting.
Jennings opens the album with the plea “Come home, bitter heart/Let go and love,” saturating the weighty pauses between austere piano chords with “fear and hate and doubt.” On “No Relief”, another pained, piano-driven song, he stretches his voice to wail about “the love that’s tearing [them] apart.” It’s reminiscent of the ragged scream in Blood of Man’s “The Field”, Jenning’s soliloquy as a father whose son was killed in battle.
Minnesota, on the other hand, falters when Jennings expresses himself in allegories. On the somewhat didactic “Wake Up”, alcoholic musician finally sobers up to the distant tune of a backing choir and gently repetitive guitars. And “Rudy”, whose medieval narrator expresses concern for his “family and [his] home” due to a king’s misdeeds, feels contrived, especially since Jennings sings so honestly on the rest of the album.
On “Clutch”, Jennings wonders, “What was so rough/Was it the freedom that freaked us out,” regarding a young relationship. The tempo builds as the images intensify, resulting in an irreverent, tambourine-stomping chorus. And a couple devoting their lives to each other reveals an endearing vulnerability on “Raindrops On the Kitchen Floor”, whose “What a Wonderful World”/”When I’m Sixty-Four” arrangement includes backing vocals by Jason Schwartzman. In the end, Jennings’ truthfulness more than makes up for Minnesota‘s minor setbacks.
Essential Tracks: “Clutch”, “Raindrops On the Kitchen Floor”, and “Bitter Heart”