Sum is greater than its parts on new album

Published 2:14 pm Thursday, September 15, 2011

Few individual instruments or parts on Mason Jennings’ “Minnesota” stand out, but together, the sum is greater than its parts.

The mellow Minnesota rocker opens his latest album, aptly titled for his state of residence, with a simple piano in a pleading love song.

The opening is a fitting beginning for an album that exudes effortless simplicity.

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It’s no wonder that Jennings’ music caught on during an ongoing gig at the 400 Bar in Minneapolis. His music is built on catchy rhythms and relatable, personal lyrics.

As a Minnesota artist, the Bob Dylan influence on Jennings is clearly visible, but not always beneficial. At times the sound and lyrics fall closer to Jack Johnson (but without all the surf vibes), and there are hints of Jack White’s vocals and Nick Drake’s instrumentation.

“Clutch” is one standout among a collection of pleasantly mellow ballads, as the vocals, piano and guitars drive the sound.

The acoustic-born rock gains more edge on tracks like “Witches Dream,” which feature brief electronics and an airy quality.

But the music is quickly grounded on “Rudy,” perhaps the most Dylan-esque track of the album. The song’s narrative tone is reminiscent of Dylan tracks like “Tangled up In Blue” or “Hurricane.”

But, Jennings’ attempt at Dylan-esque story telling falls prey to awkward moments. Some hiccups are exposed when Jennings stretches his rhymes (rhyming “perfect” with “alcoholic”).

The awkward rhyming and narrative lyrics make it hard to pin Jennings’ tone. He sings serious lyrics, but the tone will drift toward playful. The tone shifts are subtle, so it’s hard to judge whether its intentional or accidental.

Still, Jennings is able to blur most downfalls with catchy choruses, and accessible songs.

Other listens: “Blood on the Tracks,” by Bob Dylan

One of Bob Dylan’s best albums after the 1960s, “Blood on the Tracks” is probably the music legend’s most open and personal album.

After years of coy, poetic lyrics, Dylan’s style turns to confession and emotion on the 1975 release.

The album is believed to be inspired by Dylan’s divorce from his wife, Sarah. Dylan’s son, Jakob, has said “The songs are my parents talking.”

Most of the song lyrics focus around stories: “Tangled Up In Blue,” “Simple Twist of Fate” and “If You See Her Say Hello.”

Not only does the album feature some classic Dylan songs like “Shelter From the Storm,” it also shows a more intimate side of Dylan. Since Dylan has shied from the spotlight to live a private life, it’s intriguing to witness the more personal tone.

Dylan returned to his Minnesota roots on the album, as he recorded it in Minneapolis.