Jason Collett – Song and Dance Man (Arts and Crafts)
This album’s title track has a veteran performer kvetching about the collapse of the music industry: “Pass the hat for pennies / kickstart some fans.” You can’t argue his point. But rather than angry cheap shots fired by an old cynic, “Song and Dance Man” is more matter-of-fact, a plainspoken portrait of the state of the nation, no different than Bruce Springsteen eulogizing the Rust Belt.
It’s also potent because here we have someone pushing 50 who’s never given up, against all odds, a performer who benefited from the patronage of both elders (Skydiggers, Andrew Cash) and upstarts (Broken Social Scene) and has now mentored a next generation who are returning favours (Zeus): this, Collett’s eighth album, is produced by his former guitarist, Afie Jurvanen of Bahamas.
Most important: It’s probably Collett’s finest record to date, a folk-rock masterpiece in which vivid vignettes are set to earworms, with everything about Jurvanen’s production bringing the songs to vivid life. Jurvanen lays down sparse but melodic bass lines, while Bougie makes her pedal steel sing and plucks her electric in ways that make it sound like a marimba. Drummer/engineer Don Kerr’s mastery of subtlety masks the complexity of the minor touches he adds throughout. Backing vocals are key here, as they are in Bahamas—there’s even an unlikely nod to Dirty Mind-era Prince in the vocal arrangements on “Provincial Blues.”
“Honey, we all get left behind by the times, sometimes,” sings Collett. He could be talking about any situation, really, anyone rendered redundant or irrelevant in their career, their art, their life, or all three. Judging by this record, that’s not going to happen to Collett any time soon, if ever. Score one for the veteran who also deserves credit for what’s likely to be the best song title of 2016: “Forever Young is Getting Old.” (Feb. 4)
Stream: “Song and Dance Man,” “Little Sparrow,” “Provincial Blues”