If nothing else, Jason Collett deserves brownie points for elegance. “I didn’t set out to make a record with these overtones, but neither did I try to stop it,” he’s said of the Recession-inspired snapshots on his latest album, Reckon. “I just did my best to avoid the shrill rhetoric that makes most political songwriting unlistenable.” When measuring Reckon in these terms, it’s a resounding success. The shrill is almost nonexistent, preventing the record from falling in amongst the ranks of much of the Occupy movement’s music, which, regardless of its noble intentions, often comes off as awkward and embarrassingly obvious. The Canadian singer-songwriter kept his arrangements uncluttered and most of his characters speak from their hearts, not their soapboxes, a moderate approach that is both the album’s biggest strength and its biggest hindrance.
Collett uses this restraint to great effect on many of Reckon‘s slower, contemplative songs. On opener “Pacific Blue”, he plucks over a soft swell of countryside strings, detailing a travelogue of the financial crisis’ widespread effects. The tune’s quiet observations never become self-righteous or emotionally overblown. The same goes for “Talk Radio”, a first-person sketch where the narrator questions his economic suffering in the simplest of terms. “What is happening to me?” he asks. “I have done all the right things/ I am a Christian/ God-fearing/ I work hard/ I work hard for my family.” It’s a statement that will ring true for many who have lost their jobs or had their homes foreclosed over the last few years, detailing the human despair of the situation instead of demanding answers from bankers or politicians, a tactic Collett saves for the next song.
“I Wanna Rob A Bank” sees the same narrator suddenly transforming his despair into red hot rage. Comparing such lyrical opposites illustrates the manic emotional states triggered by the Recession, but the rage never quite strikes free from the album’s overall downplayed aesthetic. Instead, it plods along, backed by a mid-tempo, oddly thin bossa nova beat. Maybe that’s the point of the gimmick – juxtaposing the violent imagery with a laid back groove – though the tune would be a more inspiring rally cry if the music had sharper teeth, or if Collett pushed his perpetually folksy tenor into rougher territory. Nearly all of Reckon‘s more upbeat songs suffer the same musical hesitance; at under two-and-a-half-minutes each, “Jasper Johns’ Flag” and “King James Rag” end right as they start to kick. Collett may have dodged the usual pitfalls of political music, but some more risk might have truly captured the anger that he, and the rest of the nation, feels.
Essential Tracks: “Pacific Blue”, “Talk Radio”