Jamie Kent – All American Mutt
Northampton, Massachusetts native Jamie Kent’s latest studio release, All American Mutt, deserves consideration as one of the most inspired releases of recent years.
Kent has established quite a solid reputation since his 2009 debut with the full length album Neoteny and has logged hundreds of live appearances a year since that first release. The majority of that touring has been spent opening for marquee and well-respected acts like Huey Lewis & the News, Marc Broussard, and The Doobie Brothers, but he’s also scored coveted slots at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas.
The ten performances on his new album covers a wide gamut of styles – Kent excels with gently rocking Americana and gorgeous, nearly crystalline, balladry. The songwriting invokes, in turns, a modern take on traditional music while still nodding to its wealth of older influences. Kent is never imitative however. Instead, he filters these forms through the own unique prism of his skills, experience, and personality and pours old wine into sparkling new bottles.
The title song, however, is a singular achievement. The track’s good-natured and confident arrangement gets a first class job of interpretation from Kent’s exceptional musical collaborators, but the highlight here is his well-constructed but quite natural lyric. There’s even a hint of ambition here as Kent’s words have done quite a respectable job of encapsulating the American Experience, circa 2016, and his place in the larger context of our national life.
He immediately shifts gears for the second song. Look Up is muted, understated balladry with intense lyrics and a surprisingly soulful and weathered vocal from Kent. He inserts a wide array of different instruments into the compositions, but they are never made the spotlight moment of any individual song. Instead, Look Up is an excellent example of the layered sonic tapestry Kent achieves in each of the album’s ten songs.
Home Again will likely rate as an album highlight for many listeners. This is written with a tremendous amount of obvious sensitivity, but there’s a great deal of nuance that makes this song successful. One of the biggest factors is Kent’s resolute refusal to sentimentalize or romanticize the subject. There’s no chest-beating patriotism here – instead, Kent’s writing goes to the center of his narrator’s experience. “
Safe and Red Rover are probably the album’s best ballads. The first is a delicate and largely acoustic driven number closer to a lightly-electrified folk song than any other track on All American Mutt.
Red Rover is the first of two duets on the album and the inclusion of sympathetic male and female voices on songs like the latter take what’s already a number of extraordinary emotional power.
The album’s second to last song Shelia features contributions from pop legend Huey Lewis on harmonica and the horn section from his longtime backing band The News. Things never get too ribald on Jamie Kent’s release, but there’s a lot of smiling light humor here and the song is tremendous fun even if many listeners will feel like they’ve heard similar efforts before. Kent’s vocal sets it apart however.
There’s a lot of qualities to set Jamie Kent and All American Mutt apart from the rest of the pack. There’s subtlety, great entertaining skills, and a seriousness of intent combined vulnerability and unwavering commitment that pushes these ten songs far beyond the realm of pure product.
9 out of 10 stars