THERE ARE MORNINGS when I need some comfort right from the get go. I wake up, with the sun (hopefully) streaming in and I feel alone. Even when I'm surrounded by my girls and my love and the possessions that make up my life, I don't know where I'm bound, and I don't remember where I've been. Most of the time when I feel this way, I do what I've always done - I put on a record. I let the room warm up in its melodies, I let myself be still. And like a drug that takes a few minutes to work, by the third song, I'm not alone anymore. I remember where I came from, and even have a little bit of a clue as to where I'm going.
This Sunday past, when I felt this lonely feeling, I put on "Reckon," the new album by a man I know (and kind of idolize, but don't tell him that) called Jason Collett. Yeah, you probably know him too. If you've loved Canadian music for the last twenty years of your life, or even if you're only twenty yourself, you've probably heard him sing to you; you might have seen him keeping the Broken Social Scene in line with nothing more than a stomping foot and an acoustic guitar.
You might have seen him seducing a crowd with his songs in little clubs and big arenas and every other goddamn size of room in between all over Canada, all over the world. You might know him from your neighbourhood; he's the handsome one who always seems to have a kid with him. He's the one who shows up, who takes care, who helps out. Yeah, I told you you know him?
Anyway. Woke up. Stood up. Couldn't find my place. And so I listened to "Reckon." And all I can tell you is that by the end of it, I had remembered all kinds of things that mattered to me, and I felt better. I remembered how much I love melody. Jason has a way of finding them so easily, like shells on the beach. but he doesn't polish them up; he leaves the brine and the sand on there, which only serves to reveal the beauty of those patterns going on underneath, the texture and colour of something hidden and therefore made more beautiful.
I remembered that I live in a big empty country, a place where stories wrapped in songs have always been a way for this vast place called "Canada" (kind of a shitty name for a country, but anyway) to seem smaller somehow. Mitchell, Young, Cohen, Cockburn, Collett... we've always been good at this kind of music - music about you, about the things that have happened and the places you hope to go. Jason knows that if you want to travel this country from one end to the other, you better have a story in your pocket, and the bravery to tell it. And while nobody minds if you stretch the truth a little, it better have some truth in its heart.
I remembered little things too, like if you're gonna make a record, it's ALWAYS a good idea to get some strings on there. There's something about that febrile sound of a bow across a string that makes you more aware of the miracle of harmony. Strings are all over "Reckon"; guitar strings, violin strings, and lyrical ones; patterns and themes and ideas that stretch out and pull you in, make you feel like your listening to a teacher and a jester, and make you feel, yeah, less alone. Somebody gets it. And he's singing it for you.
There is something different going on in reckon though, something more than a conversation that's personal; something more pointed, and a little more dangerous. You see, Jason is a dad, and a citizen, and so it follows that he's no longer anyone's fool. And "Reckon" is definitely a record that takes on the poisonous political atmosphere of the day.
From King James Rag, a song so groovy you might not initially notice the disgust at its lyrical heart, to I Wanna Rob A Bank, a song whose title kind of says it all, but whose music makes you want to roll the getaway car windows down and sing along, Reckon takes on the venal greed and hypocrisy of modern Canada and the world with a lightness of touch, but no lack of vitriol. Folk music, if you want to call it that, or rock and roll, if you're more comfortable with the term, has always been partly about calling out the fat cats and the scumbags, and on this record Jason brings humour, passion and subtlety to doing just that; Woody Guthrie wrote on his guitar 'this machine kills fascists.'
Jason's music is too appealing to kill. But if you're the kind of heartless bastard he's going after on this album, it might just sneak up on you, and when you aren't looking. By the time it was over for the first time, "Reckon" was a friend of mine; just like Jason's other albums; just like Jason. I put it on again; and then again. You know why? Well, cause it was fuckin' good, that sure helped. Song after song that unfurled in a way that they have a word for: virtuosic. But it's on repeat these days and will be for many days to come I reckon (see what I did there?) because on a morning I felt a little lost, it did what all truly great albums do; it put up a sign that pointed me back to the beauty in just being here. I don't really know how I would have gotten through this weird old life if albums like Reckon didn't do that for me every now and then. On a pretty cold morning, "Reckon" stood up for me, and for all those who feel like the world is getting crueler by the day. It gave me hooks to sing, to cheer my heart; it gave me beats and sex and a little rage, like rock and roll music is supposed to, to make me bold; it gave me a story to follow, and the story sounded a lot like my own; "Reckon" was there, and it always will be. And if you listen, I'll bet even money it will be there for you too; waiting on the shelf, or in the cloud, to take you in again, and put you back down on the ground at the end.
Oh by the way, you might notice there's another album that comes along with Reckon. This collection is a summing up, I guess you could say, or at least a look back at where Jason has come from, and where he's going. As he picks up listeners with each album, many of whom are younger than some this guy's kids, it seems like a good idea to give them a primer on some his finest moments from before. When you write this songs this well, and this consistently, it's easy to put out new stuff, and it's crucial to let new listeners hear the best of the older stuff. And it's free. Which, as we all know, seems to be the way the kids like their music these days. Gotta go; got songs to write, a kid to feed. one of the annoying things about being a musician is that every time you hear a record this good, it makes you feel like you're a lazy prick and you gotta work harder. So it's back to work. I forgot where I was for a second so I listened to Reckon; Reckon put me back on the road. And I'm on my way again...