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Two Songwriters – One Local, One Eternal

May 12, 2009

Martinez resident Andy Mason has just released “Stories Told,” his second CD, featuring, like his first, guitar, vocals and  harmonica. His songs are based on what he sees in front of him, and where those sights take his mind. When you talk about songwriters, and especially those who use real life and harmonica as templates, the comparison is naturally to Bob Dylan. Several reviewers have noted that Andy’s harp solos sound much like early Dylan harp solos, and of course, if you strap on the harmonica on its holder and play it while you play guitar, you’re going to also sound like early Dylan harmonica playing. This can or cannot be a good thing, depending on your point of view. Many people love that sound, many do not.

Andy also approaches vocals and phrasing like early Bob, a choice that is risky, to say the least, because if you love Bob, you don’t want to invite comparisons to one of the unquestioned masters of the folk scare of the early 1960s. But Andy does go down that road, and he does a fair job of handling the task of singing his tunes well enough. There is a raw approach he uses, a punctuation to the lyrics that is sometimes unexpected, and not unexpected. Andy, being local, also writes about local themes, like beavers, as well as issues like the Iraq war. A pretty wide range of song topics, to be sure. His songs are worth listening to, written with care and enthusiasm, sung with a laid-back bravado, and his guitar work is just right to support the song and singer.

If you’re interested in purchasing “Songs from Town,” his first CD, or “Stories Told,” his latest, you can find them on iTunes, or CDBaby. You can also order from Andy’s Web site, You can also see him perform on You Tube. Support your local musicians.

(Shameless plug subliminal moment: support your local musicians, like The Very Bad Boys this Saturday night at 8 p.m. at Armando’s, 707 Marina Vista in downtown Martinez. The author of this column would very much appreciate your attendance at this performance, as he is extremely insecure and needs oodles of validation from people JUST LIKE YOU.  Oh, and he’s also in the band. Thank you).

The new album just released this week that I am crazy about and can’t get enough of is by the above-mentioned Mr. Bob Dylan, who has, throughout this record, put down his harmonica. But oh my goodness, people. This is a seething, searing exploration of pain, pleasure, life, death, joy, moments, shots, jolts, jeers, cheers, revelations and, most of all, women. This is a record that will stand the test of time as long as time stands. Whew. It’s a work of unfathomable brilliance, by the greatest American songwriter to stagger shyly onto a stage and confuse every single one of us. Please note, for loyal readers, that Leonard Cohen, who has also been portrayed favorably in this space, is Canadian, not American. So neener neener on you. I am NOT contradicting myself.

Bob Dylan, like Leonard Cohen, has the vocal prowress of a coyote in heat during a sandstorm. Or maybe not quite that dramatic. But the point is, neither guy can sing very well, in the classic definition of the word “sing.” But what they do, and what Bob in particular does, is take an instrument that most people would dismiss out of hand, and turns it into a dazzling display of phrasing and nuance, insinuation and downright intimidation, a sneering jeering rolicking roll of a voice that, once you develop a taste for it, as I have, is just absolutely delightful and even addicting. Now, his last few records have been, admittedly, a little hard to listen to, as his voice continues to go into the basement baritone land of gravel and fog. But on this record, he nails the blues singer’s tone from the first to the last note. And the production on this record sounds just like the early Chess blues recordings.

Oh sure, I could go into each song and give you my take on it, but how boring is that? If you like, or love, Bob Dylan, or ever have, please do yourself a huge favor and buy this recording. Listen to it at least three times before you decide you don’t like it. If you don’t care for Bob, then you probably stopped reading already, but hopefully not before you read the part about The Very Bad Boys being at Armando’s this Saturday at 8 p.m., 707 Marina Vista.

This space will be playing more than a couple of his own songs that night, and would love to share them with you.

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