Mason Jennings – 3.18.10 @ The Orpheum
So there’s Bob Dylan, Minnesotan gone rogue, ran away to New York City in search of something his hometown couldn’t develop, something his talent couldn’t hide from, something his dreams seemed destined to encounter, like one of Aesop’s fables with a slurred and acoustic moral.
And on the other end, there’s Greg Brown, modern folk legend, calling Iowa his birthplace despite sounding more Minnesotan than any other modern singer, his voice reaching down to the cellars, frosting the Mason jars and breathing life into the beets and the tomatoes and the peppers.
Somewhere in the middle lies Mason Jennings, Hawaiian by birth, Pittsburgh-raised and transplanted to Minnesota, where he’s taken the mantle of introspection and used it to his advantage, humbly taking stage – thought not without confidence – as this generation’s voice of heartland prayer.
Love and children and religion and life and death and two guys fighting in the headlights of their trucks; Mason tells stories. Stories of girls and stories of war and stories of slides and the sun and really his mind never stops – it keeps going, one world after another, each character like some kind of hidden personality. But not hidden at all, really. They’re all right there, a part of him. And, through his music, a part of us.
It was with this honesty he stood before us tonight, just he and a couple of guitars, serenading the hundreds in attendance at The Orpheum, reminding me that nostalgia can be beautiful, that the happy pain that comes from loving someone too much can be thrilling, that the fun in mixing words together can be addictive, that change is as natural as living and dying – and that all you can do with it is sing about it and remember how much it affected you.
So it’s really no surprise that, when chosen as the voice behind one of Dylan’s personas in I’m Not There, he was given free reign to recreate “The Times They Are a Changin’,” and in true form he not only did it with honesty but with an unknowing nod to Greg Brown, taking lyrics meant for world change and turning them into something that could be planted in the fields, sprouting anew once the rains of time had washed over them.
His song was truth, because it came from stories of those who came before him. And it’s those stories that make him a natural extension of their legend.