by JEFF ECHERT & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & his country is practically full to bursting with over-earnest singer-songwriters strumming odes to their wanderlust -- confessions to their status as rambling men and women -- traipsing around the byways and back roads of America as if On the Road were a sacred scripture. (We apologize to those of you for whom On the Road is, literally, sacred scripture). Many of these people are charlatans. They sound the same. The closest they'll get to experiencing America is through their tour van window. The closest they'll get to penning "America" is... well, they'll never write anything close to "America."
Minneapolis' Mason Jennings, however, is the real thing. His musical roaming is as wide reaching as his lyrical meanderings; he's a bard who can be many things to many people. Jennings' quixotic tendencies lead him to the strangest places. Jennings is almost a cause cel & egrave;bre for celebrity A & amp;R men, having been signed to labels owned by both Isaac Brock and Jack Johnson (a puzzling combination). But it's easy to see the interest -- Brock's love for the weird and dirty side of folk is embodied in Jennings' stark refusal to produce two albums that sound alike. After his poppy, hook-filled self-titled debut, Jennings put out Birds Flying Away, a stripped-down political album that Woody Guthrie would be proud to call his own. A corn-fed Minnesota boy doing songs called "Dr. King" and "Black Panther" must have piqued Brock's conflict-obsessed interest as well. Jack Johnson might very well have been attracted to Jennings' breezy style, blending musical styles from reggae, funk, and hell, even straight-up chants together effortlessly.
But at the center of it all is a truly romantic soul, a singer who can belt out lines like "You are the love of my life" without sounding trite or schmaltzy. Perhaps the most notable aspect of Jennings is just how little critics seem to agree on who he sounds like. Touchstones range from Jeff Tweedy to Bob Dylan to acoustic Beck to Dave Matthews, which may all be ostensibly in the "Americana" genre, but very rarely would be linked together as musical synonyms. The only constant seems to be Jennings' constant balladeering -- from "The Ballad of Paul and Sheila," a paean to late Minnesota senator Paul Wellstone to "Ballad for My One True Love," which is about exactly what it says. Jennings is a diehard dreamer, devoting his music to his wife and sons -- and to his sense of amorous idealism. For all his roaming, from tour stop to tour stop or from musical style to musical style, Jennings always comes back home.
Mason Jennings with Zach Gill at the Knitting Factory on Wednesday, Nov. 5, at 7 pm. Tickets: $13; $15 at the door. Call 325-SEAT.