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Jason Howell | Everywhere Out of Place

album review by John Powell

Jason Howell | Everywhere Out of Place

Music can become grandiose, bombarded with synths, electric guitars, and sounds in every pore of the speaker. Then there are musicians like Jason Howell, who, with his acoustic guitar alone- and sometimes sparse, tempered drums and bass, and the occasional string section- can melt your heart with simplicity.

Everywhere Out of Place is a low-fi folk music set of sad melodies and near-hopeful songs. Jason’s music is sometimes eerie like younger Eels, sometimes melodically tenacious like latter Decemberists, and sometimes very folkie. Whatever he tries, he does so with grace.

Songs like “Calendars” seem pulled off of R.E.M or some other early 90s masters of song architecture- this song in particular a swampy ballad that hovers across at a slow tempo. Jason sings with drunken slur, which helps with the comparison.

“Anyone But You” is so raw in its recording that the guitar track buzzes, but the recordings are half the charm of this album. Jason is not someone looking for pop shine. When he sings, “I’ve never felt so at home,” it’s befitting of the record. It sounds like this was recorded in a living room.

“The Cobweb Song” sounds like Red House Painter or Willy Mason. Jason sings with not so much apathy as disenchantment. He steps away from the story, observing it with patience and gratitude.

The really remarkable track, however, is the glorious “Cathy”. The guitar melody, simple and dry, sounds like Simon and Garfunkel, while Jason sings with all his heart. “It doesn’t matter if you love me/ we’ll just drive,” he sings, then whistles, and then adds, “I could just use some company.” Jason strips character down to the gritty truth, and here he’s a lonely, sad man seeking a friend. The song is a keeper.

Another take away is “Strays”, where Jason sings, “We’re more precious than gold/ but we’re sold for a good time.” The instruments very slowly build as Jason begs, “Humble as I am/ Still prideful as I was.” The song is something like an anthem, or maybe an anti-anthem. Judge for yourself.

What’s most intriguing about Everywhere Out of Place is that, with all it’s dreariness, it’s like one of those rainy days you admire, not one that you begrudge. It’s gray, but not dark. It’s heavy, but not weighted. This is not an easy task. Jason pulls it off.

In fact, this album will grow on you. The first listen is interesting, but as you learn the songs you hear subtle poetic marks. I hope Jason finds his footing. Who knows what someone like this may accomplish.

Bottom line: A quiet, subtle record full of simple arrangements, catchy melodies, and lifelong themes.


 

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