When Jeff Hanson’s first album Son was released in 2003, everyone banged on about his voice. Many, many column inches about how his voice was just so… girly. Forget that! So the guy sings a little high. So when he sings he bears more than a passing resemblance to Alison Krauss or Nanci Griffith. These comparisons are meaningless, albeit founded somewhere in the real world. Jeff Hanson shows on his latest self-titled album that both he and his music have balls.
It is a very brave man with a huge amount of conviction who opens an album with a number that is so frail that it barely can support the weight of its own chorus. It is not until four minutes into “Losing a Year” that the song finally picks up enough nerve to step forward. Then, for the remaining (nearly) four minutes, it sways at you in a trance, like someone who has temporarily lost their mind. Strings come and go, and you are left there, inexplicably with a lighter in your hand, alone, and in a dark, dark place. Just you, your tears, and the lighter burning your fingers.
If you are coming to Jeff Hanson fresh, you are in for a real treat. His music is a subtle blend of all the songwriters who provide the soundtrack to those important moments in your life. Like his voice, the songs possess a brittle quality, so much so that when he rocks out (as in “Welcome Home”) it comes as such a shock that you feel uncomfortable and almost want it to stop. However, for the largest part Jeff Hanson is an introspective offering that is very easy on the ear and offers few such shocks.
This may make the record sound a little bland. It really isn’t. Sure, it borders on a kind of “stadium folk” in places, but not to the point of absurdity. Nonetheless, Hanson’s work is drawn with the same fine pencils as the Cowboy Junkies or Mary Black (see “Something About” and “This Time It Will”, respectively, for examples). He is often compared to the late Elliott Smith in terms of his songwriting, and indeed there is darkness to be found. But as with Smith, it is a sweet darkness that is not at all cold, but like a warm duvet on a chilly, rainy Sunday afternoon. I think the word I am searching for here is “bittersweet.”
Lyrically, Hanson takes you on a journey through a landscape of short tales of loss, laughter, and hope. There is not much mirth here. Yet there always seems to be a silver lining somewhere, with the implicit warning that behind each silver lining there may be a cloud. I have a horrible feeling that I am making it all sound a little gloomy. In a way it is, but only in the same way that going to see a sad film can give you such a feeling of release that you experience euphoria afterwards.
The majority of these songs have a certain “ahhh” quality that is usually associated with fluffy kittens or newborn babies. If you are a guy, your girlfriend will probably like this album, and if you don’t like it too, where is your soul? If you are a girl and you don’t like this, I don’t want to hear about it, because you are definitely the kind of girl my mother warned me against. All in all Jeff Hanson is a lovely record that will not disappoint fans of his debut and can only serve to increase the popularity of this talented singer/songwriter.