Jamie Kent – All-American Mutt
Since Jamie Kent’s 2009 recording debut, the series of releases that have followed built Kent a reputation as one of Nashville’s best modern songwriters. His talents extend far past Music City’s metropolitan limits however. This Northampton, Massachusetts native. Frankly, deserves frequent mention as one of the best all-around popular songwriters today and his slightly smoky, suggestive vocals might not bear the marks of classical vocal training, but he sings with natural timing, command, and grace no one can teach. The songwriting covers a number of styles under the Americana/modern country/roots rock vibe and Kent keeps a breathtakingly positioned balance between the competing modes thanks to the album’s superb track listing. The production from Grammy nominated Dave Brainard frames everything with immediacy and an attentive ear.
He shows fantastic confidence beginning the album with its title track and the song is a low-key tour de force. It’s a deceptive ambition because, as you listen to Kent sing, you can easily imagine him smiling throughout, but the lyrics basically take in the entire and often contrary American experience we all share. There’s a litany of instruments employed to get this song over with its audience, but the arrangement avoids ever sounding cluttered and Brainard’s aforementioned production skills never bring the players to cross purposes with each other. “Home Again” is an inventive track for a number of reasons. The subject matter is the stuff of folk and popular songs for time immemorial – a soldier returns from war forever changed, even haunted, by the experience. Kent, far removed from the experience of setting off to war and returning home, immerses himself completely in this first person narrative and the song’s speaker emerges from his performance fully-formed for the audience.
There’s a few very playful songs on All-American Mutt and “Be Your Man” might just be the most remarkable of the lot. Kent’s playfulness is never mindless or garrulous. There’s always musical substance accompanying even the lighter songs on this album and “Be Your Man” benefits a lot from the fresh tempo and inventive playing. “Safe” has a perfectly composed lyric that will play as utterly predictable to some, but predictable in a very satisfying way. Kent individualizes the song with a vocal that explores its full emotional range without over overplaying the song’s sentiments. Two of the album’s final trio of songs are ballads and duets. The first, “Red Rover”, has a strong classic country vibe harkening back, in some respects, to the work of iconic male/female singing acts like Jennings and Colter, Cash and Carter, et al. Vocalist Michaela Anne has a voice that encourages this perception – she rarely sings a line the same way twice and easily reaches the high bar Kent sets for the two of them on this track. The second ballad and final song, “Embrace the Disaster”, features the vocal contributions of Alyssa Bonagura. She weaves her voice around Kent’s much more tightly and relies less on call and response situations, but the songs are inherently quite different. “Embrace the Disaster” ends All American Mutt on a startlingly artsy and ghostly note in some ways and illustrates how much at home Kent is on the stairway of surprise. This is an album full of joys and surprises alike.
9 out of 10 stars
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