Click to hear: “The Flame You Follow”
Local singer-songwriter Jason Spooner has just released his second full-length studio album, The Flame You Follow. A collection of 11 groove-pop and folk songs, The Flame should delight fans of the hard-gigging Spooner and devotees of the doomed alt-adult contemporary station WCLZ.
Less rootsy and more polished than his 2002 debut, Lost Houses, The Flamefinds Spooner mulling desperation, violence, and isolation in near equal measure. Most of these dark musings are cloaked in peppy rhythms, with plucky guitar lines and dashes of sax and organ; others plod along in an empathetic haze, accented by piano and strings.
The opener, “Black and Blue,” slips its allusion to domestic violence into a strummy pop-folk story-song told from the perspective of a bitter lover seeking solace in Vegas. “You’re back on the East Coast with the men you meet in bars / Surrender to the bartender like the little tramp you are.”
As the kids say these days: Oooh… snat!
“All That We Know” follows – a jazzy, noirish number about a convenience store robbery gone bad. This cut could get lost in Lyle Lovett’s generous oeuvre. Put it in your “Lovett or Leave It” iPod mix and you might never know the difference in the car.
On “Spaceship,” Spooner’s dreaming of an extraterrestrial escape from life’s regrets. Here he lays the syrup on too thick. The chorus of this ditty makes me want to smash things.
The album get vaguely funky on a couple numbers that follow, and the title track is the most successful of these. A smooth four minutes of soulful R&F (Rhythm & Folk), “The Flame You Follow” features Ryan Zoidis on sax and G.Q. Lazorbase (likely fellow Overtone Spence Albee circumventing a contract obligation) on keys, augmenting now regular trio-mates Andy Rice (bass and backing vocals) and drummer Reed Chambers. (Karl Anderson’s on this track, too, on Hammond.)
“The Simple Life” will get sandals shuffling at the trio’s shows this summer, but the band’s cover of Talking Heads’ “Slippery People” stumbles at the end. I found Spooner’s mid-tempo, mostly acoustic take on this song interesting at first, but in the end it just made me itch for the exuberant original.
The Flame winds down with the moody and melodic “Hover,” a duet with smoky-voiced Cincinnati folk-popper Kim Taylor. “We can look away from this disaster / if I cut my conscience in thirds,” goes the chorus. “Watch the red sun sinking faster / It hovers like murder and words / Murder and words.”
Again with the killing.
Spooner is a talented singer within the limited range on display here. His acoustic and electric guitar work exudes the ease of well-calloused fingertips. There are times between verses and choruses when you wish the band would take it out a little, let some instrumental air into the composition. Alas, singer-songwriters are wont to try to stuff as many lyrics as possible into their precious minutes on the mic. Murder and words, indeed.
Spooner produced this fine-sounding album (with Jon Wyman and Gateway Mastering’s Adam Ayan at the knobs), and the nice packaging and layout of the self-released CD, which features several paintings by Romanian/Maine artist Oana Lauric, is also impressive.
— Chris Busby
The Jason Spooner Band plays a CD release show on Fri., June 29, at The Wine Bar, 38 Wharf St., Portland, at 9 p.m. No cover (21+). 773-6667. For more on Spooner, visit jasonspooner.com.