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Mason Jennings is brilliant at The Showbox
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Mason Jennings is brilliant at The Showbox

by Albert Rodriguez - SGN A&E Writer

Mason Jennings
September 25
The Showbox Market


I hadn't been born yet to witness Bob Dylan during his Blonde on Blonde days, but I gotta believe Mason Jennings is the closest thing to the folk legend in today's music scene. The Minneapolis-based artist gave a filled room at The Showbox Market last weekend a masterful performance that mirrored some of best singer-songwriters out there - at times, I closed my eyes and swore I was listening to vintage Tom Petty.

Jennings strode onstage quietly in his low-profile way, and immediately went to work on "Pittsburgh," a track from his newest album, Blood of Man. The release is earning him top reviews and exposure, including a four-star rating by Rolling Stone magazine and a feature on CNN. A fantastic version of "The Field," also on the latest record, was the second number played from the set list. Jennings grittily bit into the song's chorus, "it's right here, it's right here, it's right here."

There's a subtle cockiness to Jennings that adds to his sex appeal. He has a natural, rugged persona, a "yes, I'm cool, don't cut any fucking trees down" attitude that matches his neo-hippie, masculine image. Dressed in gray trousers and a white fitted tee, the tall and bearded musician was as palatable to the eyes as to the ears.

"We love this city so much!" Jennings exclaimed to the audience, and then dove into knockout renditions of "Tourist" and "Black Wind Blowing," only to be outdone by a spirited, danceable run-through of "Soldier Boy," a track from his In the Ever release that was written after a tour of the White House.

A highlight of the show was "Ballad for My One True Love," where Jennings sweetly crooned "God bless the babies." For lack of a better description, it was just damn good. Ditto for "Be Here Now," which had distinct hints of Neil Young. Backed by a three-piece band, most of his mid-tempo material received an upbeat, rockier boost, such as a pair of Americana favorites, "Jackson Square" and "Memphis, Tennessee."

Everyone seemed to know the words to "Your New Man," a comical tune that pokes fun at an ex-girlfriend's fresh squeeze. "City of Ghosts" is my least favorite track on the new album, and it didn't do much for me on Friday night. Neither did the loud, garage rock-tinged number "Ain't No Friend of Mine," which allowed me an excuse to fetch a drink at the bar.

The guitars on "Lonely Road" were so catchy and irresistible, I couldn't help but sway and smile with joy. Those five minutes were some of the most memorable of my entire year of concert attendance. Jennings closed his main set with the title track from Blood of Man.

An encore brought Jennings out right away for two more songs, including "Crown," where Jennings simultaneously delighted on guitar and harmonica - yet another five minutes I'm sure to re-visit at the close of 2009.

This was a skillful display by one of folk-rock's most under-appreciated talents, though Mason Jennings is starting to gain deserved recognition as both an onstage performer and recording artist - amen to that. It'd be a shame if Grammy voters overlooked Blood of Man, but I doubt year-end critics will.

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