I’ve noted before that 2014 and 2015 were big discovery years for me in terms of exploring the independent side of country music. We already talked about 2015, but in all honesty, I didn’t do much exploring in 2014. I used to refuse to stream my music, and in truth I even refused to give into going digital. Call me Garth Brooks. Anyway, we all know that you can’t stop at your local Target or wherever to get a lot of independent country records, so I had very slim pickings that year.
However, there were two albums I knew I had to get, mostly because they attracted a ton of buzz. One was, surprise surprise, Sturgill’s Metamodern, but the other was Jason Eady’s Daylight and Dark album, mostly because it seemed to be another favorite among the critics and independent fans. In another time and place, I might have lied and told you that I thought Metamodern was the best album of that year, but in truth I’m not so sure of that these days, mostly because Daylight and Dark in and of itself was a killer (underrated) album.
Now we’re not here to talk about that album, but there does beg a question from all of that, how does one follow an album like that? Well, in a weird, surprising turn of events, Jason Eady sort of pulled a Kendrick Lamar – that is, followed up a critically acclaimed project with something that’s different and more subdued. Really it’s the perfect way to follow it up, as much like the title implies, this is Jason Eady.
I wish I had something different to say other than what everyone else has said about this project so far, but in truth I don’t. While I wouldn’t say it’s quite the journey that Daylight and Dark was, I would say you’ll find some of Jason’s best songs on this project. I remember when I talked about the song “Barabbas” in my review of Larry Hooper’s No Turning Back album, and to be honest I feel like an idiot for not catching the religious tone of it at the time. It reads out like a former convict pondering the next step, but in truth there’s so much more to unpack with this song, and it’s just the first one you’ll hear on the album.
“Black Jesus” is the perfect type of song to hear right about now, telling the story of a friendship that knows no boundaries, be it race, class, gender or something else. It’s funny that the white male in this story is teaching the African-American male how to play Hank Williams tunes. After all, one of Hank’s teachers was Rufus Payne, an African-American street performer who taught Hank Williams how to play the blues. I read it as the torch being passed down. I don’t know, maybe I’m reading too much into it, but that’s the thing, you can get lost in these lyrics at times. The meanings of each song are clear, but at the same time they’re never lazily spelled out or clouded by too much esoteric language. Eady has always been an excellent lyricist, and in terms of songwriting level I’d put him against James McMurtry, and this album really sees that talent pushed further.
I’d say that talent shines through even more because this is a personal record for Jason as well. Sure, maybe not as a whole, but to end the album off with songs such as “Not Too Loud” and “40 Years” is simply brilliant. The shift of perspective from focusing on his child to then focusing on himself is not a coincidence. Again, much like “Black Jesus” there’s a sense of coming full circle with these two tracks, noticing how even though he’s older than his child (duh), they’re still moving together at the same rate in life, facing new (and different) challenges along the way in this journey called life.
Other than that, “No Genie In This Bottle” is wrapped around a clever hook (and of course, the songwriting), and “Where I’ve Been” sets the sequence of events that “Not Too Loud and “40 Years” follow where the songwriting turns more personal, and of course, more painful as well in its framing and honesty.
Now again, I don’t have much to say that’s different from what the rest of people are saying about the record, and that extends to my criticisms as well. It is very stripped back, but not as minimalist as you’d think. “Black Jesus” is backed by a great fiddle melody, as is “Not Too Loud”, and a song like “Rain” has some great harmonies to it courtesy of wife Courtney Patton (as well as other singers I can’t identify). That said, it is very much a mood record that sure, might not be the flashiest out there, but it’s also one that is a rewarding experience when given the proper time. Other than this, I will say that while “Waiting To Shine” is a nice fun upbeat moment of relief from this mostly reflective album, it does feel a little forced in terms of Jason’s vocal delivery and even the message. “Drive” (which by the way is reminiscent of William Michael Morgan’s “Missing”) is a more fun break.
But really, this project is perfect for this time of year. Sure, we’ve still had some bad rain and some chilly weather, but this is also the time where the sun is starting to shine again to provide warmth to us, and that’s what this album is, it’s warm and comforting, and it’s another excellent album from Mr. Eady. There really is just something about this record that’s connecting with me, and I think that connection will only grow stronger throughout the rest of this year.
OVERALL ASSESSMENT: This is a great record. If you want to talk numbers…hell, I don’t know. Strong 8? I think it’s missing somewhat of an edge to attain a 9, but it’s really damn great, so get to listenin’.
Best Tracks: “Barrabas”, “Not Too Loud”, “40 Years”, “Drive”, “Black Jesus”
Weakest Track: “Waiting To Shine”