Jason Anderson revels in a time-tested style, a simple classic rock base somewhere between the Band and Bruce Springsteen. Piano and organ often co-exist, choruses are designed for sing-alongs and sax solos are not out of the question. Anderson has been playing out since 1999 (he previously went by the stage name Wolf Colonel) and has a lot of releases out there, many on K-Records. I had never heard of him before, but now I’ll be sure to check him out when he comes my way because this album is a blast.
Anderson has a bit of an Elvis Costello thing going vocally (despite being from New Hampshire, not England), especially when he busts out the "whoa-oh"s, which is quite frequently. "Whoa"s, "yeah"s, and "la"s are sprinkled throughout the album, and are always answered by the studio crowd. The opening title track starts things off amazingly and had me singing along immediately, echoing Anderson’s yelps of "Tonight!" with the gang and not noticing the seven-minute length. I have an inkling Anderson puts on an awesome show for a rabid fanbase who come to every show to feel like part of the band. His album appears to be an attempt to capture that vibe, from the simple artwork’s photo of him singing among the crowd, to the long encore-ready jams, to the 45-person list of backup singers on the record. As “Saturday Night” breaks down to drums you hear him yell "Do it again!" and give a ‘woo!’ as the band hits, leading them with the vigor of James Brown; I imagine he does the same live.
Hold Steady fans will surely dig this though it is obviously lighter on the guitar and, well, there’s no Craig Finn. That’s the one thing holding Anderson back: lyrics and delivery. I like how he pulls you into the world his stories inhabit, getting very specific about places and objects around him (“sitting in your sister’s Volvo”; mentioning Captain Crunch) or what his conversations were about. I appreciate plain-spoken lyrics, but sometimes the words don’t fit into pleasant rhythms. He talks quite a bit about music throughout the album, namedropping Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Elliott Smith (his third album, specifically) and Fugazi (who he apparently dreams about?). Then there’s the part of “The First Snow of the Year” where he talks about ‘Tetris brain,’ which I found amusing (because I think I’ve suffered this ailment) but this may seem a little weird to most. Most of these details lead to his big topics of love and friendship, and on a grander scale he succeeds in creating an incredibly uplifting and happy album. Oddly, the word-less moments are some of the most powerful, and you just have to smile when “July 4, 2004” builds to a simple back-and-forth of "whoa"s. Yeah, there are a ton of them here and I love every one.
However, Anderson stumbles a bit on the ballads. “On Vacation” actually feels its length as he takes a long time to say very little about a special night of connecting with a girl. “So Long” is another slow, awkward one, at least at first. "The smell of your hair is literally amazing" he states over a chord that hangs a bit too long. He does hit his simple, heartwarming message as the band builds for the coda: "The best thing in the world / is to love someone and they love you back."
Jason Anderson makes rock and roll the way it was originally intended: as a party starter. It will get you moving, singing and feeling good. I read in a press release I found somewhere online, “His is a global conversion, one living room at a time,” and I hope to see him in someone’s living room soon, even though I’m already a believer.