Quick: what musician plays guitar, piano and harmonica, performed at Wonder Ballroom in 2011, lives in Minnesota but was born in Hawaii, and has a new release out on record label “Stats and Brackets”?

If you guessed singer-songwriter Mason Jennings, you’re either a good guesser or have exceptionally refined taste in unique Indie artists.

Jennings’s buoyant, sprightly “Lonely Street” opens new release “Always Been,” a master work that’s filled to the brim with artful compositions, short inspirational journeys, engaging adventures and great story telling. It’s also an intimate recording, somehow making us feel we’re right there in the recording studio with Jennings and band members The Pines along with  Chad Cromwell, drummer for Neil Young.

Whether it’s the sweet strings backing portions of romantic, old-fashioned “Dreaming,” or the steady rolling piano accompaniment on “Patti and Robert” (inspired by Patti Smith’s book, “Just Kids”), the songwriting feels natural and stories flow easily on Jenning’s newest feat. “Always Been” was produced with expert musician, guitarist and producer Bo Ramsey. Ramsey’s recorded with Lucinda Williams and also produced The Pines stellar “Sparrows in the Bell” release.

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Prolific and accomplished

Jennings learned guitar and began writing songs at the tender age of 13. At 22, in 1997 in a rented house in Minneapolis he produced his self-titled debut, playing all the instruments himself. Today he has 10 full-length studio releases to his credit.

This man is driven! And prolific.

His albums have included the 2004 “Use Your Voice,” as stellar a collection of songs as any. It gave us funny and entertaining “Empire Builder,” his wry and candid “Ulysses” and the lovely and mystical “The Light.”

In 2008 Jennings released “In the Ever” – a delightful collection of heart-rending tracks like “Something About Your Love,” the profound “How Deep is that River,” the lyrically clever hit single “I Love You and Buddha Too,” and the hilarious and crowd-pleasing “Your New Man.”

Highlights of the new release include “Wilderness,” a compelling soft folk-rock track about a relationship on-the edge. Look also for some wonderful harmonica touches enhancing the warm-hearted “So Good,” a great arrangement for Jennings and the band.

Those who prefer more caffeine in their morning music will gravitate to the raucous slide guitar and great harmonies on the quick-fire, old-timey (“Can I get a ) Witness,” and the charming, adventurous love-at-first-sight theme of “Rainboots” – seemingly tailor-made for the Pacific Northwest music scene.

> Listen to Rainboots

 

To sum up: The eleven tracks on “Always Been” are hopeful, sunny and bright, an enticing combination as we enter the gray, gloomy month of December.

Just how a musician as accomplished as Mason Jennings continues to fly under the radar of most commercial radio and “Hot 100” charts is a mystery. Maybe it’s a good thing, though, because his unique, authentic style remains a reassuring refuge in the wilderness that the music world can sometimes become. Mason2

Currently touring to promote “Always Been,” Jennings plays in Minneapolis December 6 & 7, and in Dallas and Austin, Texas, January 24 & 25. With a new set of songs as rich and rewarding as these are, it shouldn’t surprise us if Jennings’s fan base grows appreciably.

He plays Seattle February 27 and in Portland on the 28.

Where to find his music:

You can find his music on his website http://masonjennings.com/ or on iTunes, and look for additional upcoming tour dates here: http://masonjennings.com/tour

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