Jason Eady set out to make a simple sounding recording but it raises some unexpected emotional complexities that linger long after the songs have wound to a close.
Over the last decade, Jason Eady has become an increasingly recognizable name in the Texas singer-songwriter tradition, issuing a series of records that have earned him a dedicated audience. His latest is a self-titled affair that comes three years after Daylight/Dark, an effort that saw him further embrace the disparate streams of rural American music and prove himself a formidable voice in the genre. Eady works once more with longtime producer Kevin Welch, the man who has helmed past projects, including 2012’s acclaimed AM Country Heaven. This time out, the pair decided to keep the music as organic as possible: Steel guitar is the only electric instrument on the entire release, and one imagines that the most current expended on the release came from firing up the mixing board and microphones.
The result of that approach is a collection that takes the listener to the comfort of front room pickin’ parties, where players gather for the sake of the song, each doing their best to let the music come across in its purest, most unadorned form. There’s something about an older America, a time and place that existed before pop music, before mass marketing and branding that shines through during “Rain”, a piece that’s as much a prayer as it is a song. The simplicity of lyric and sentiment carry more weight than any sonic trappings intended to land the song on radio ever could. It comes off as one of those songs that has always been.
Still, Eady knows the importance of a well-structured song, the power of a hook and the way that it can buoy an intriguing narrative. “Barabbas” isn’t exactly a re-write of “Long Black Veil” but it shares some of that classic’s intrigue and drama, its ability to raise larger questions quietly and without a heavy hand. It also has a most memorable chorus, one you’ll remember instantly, sing often and wish you’d thought of something as emotionally charged.
These aren’t songs meant to drag us into a deep, nearly unremembered past, though. There are hooks galore, in particular in “Waiting to Shine” and “Drive”, numbers that in a bygone era would have been caliber instead. In some ways, that may be better, because what those pieces (and several others here) suggest is that their author clearly deserves to become part of the wider continuous musical conversation. A song’s rise, fall, and disappearance from the charts brings one kind of glory, its entrance into immortality another.
There are many measures of a writer’s full abilities and chief among them are an ability to pen a traveling song (“Why I Left Atlanta” rises to the occasion just fine) and a convincing ballad. On this latter task, Eady proves himself up to the task, giving us the heartbreaking parent/child piece “Not Too Loud” and the Willie Nelson-worthy meditation “40 Years". The latter is made all the more poignant by Tammy Rogers’ soulful fiddle playing, the way she underscores the wise punch of the lyrics without intruding on their intentions or overstepping her boundaries.
The record may lean a little heavily on the ballads, in particular at the back end but that hardly matters. What we ultimately have is a fine window into the soul of a songwriter who deserves all the good things that have come to him and the many more on the way. It’s artists such as Eady who remind us that the future of American music is in fine hands. Yes, there are brighter, shinier voices and faces, flashier attempts for the mighty greenback, but none of those are likely to grip our hearts and convince us to raise our voices the way the songs here can.
This is an artist who hasn’t just shared his considerable gifts with his audience, and he’s given us a rather remarkable one in return for the kindness of our time and attention.