Jason Shain has a bit of Dylan and Prine and even Harry Chapin in his voice and, in places, in his music as well. Call it alt.country or alt.folk or Americana and you wouldn't be far off, for he could easily fit into any of those categories, but like any real musical performer, influences change with the song.
Ostensibly, this is a bare-bones demo, the eight songs labelled "home recordings" by Shain's manager, though the quality is hardly what we would expect from such a description. Perhaps he meant home studio, for the music is as clean as one could expect. Using an electric guitar and a couple of acoustics interspersed with a Dylan-like harmonica, Shain presents songs on an as-is basis. There is no sense of a convoluted attempt at simplicity, for the simplicity is part and parcel of Shain and his musical vision.
That vision slides in and out of the folk past as smoothly as if he was somehow magically transported to the old Vanguard and Elektra days and recorded this somewhere around Bleeker and MacDougall. Admittedly, his vision is modern (substitute Baghdad for Saigon and you have a bit of it), but it works, especially on the demo's closer, This Love Letter, a simple and personal look at war from a modern universal soldier.
There's Got To Be a Reason is straight out of the early Dylan songbook and is the perfect opener. Let us call it Folk: Plugged. Sometimes love and not-quite-love fills the folkie heart, or maybe it's love never meant to bear fruit— The Jackson Hotel tells such a tale. Most of us have those moments when we look back and wonder what might have been... this is one of Shain's. Shain nods toward country with the title track and it suffices, but it lacks emotional impetus. Good head-nodder, nonetheless. One could imagine Tom Petty singing Heavy Heart, an upbeat semi-rocker with more of a steady beat than the others here. Shain steps back to folk roots for Looking For Someone To Love, a ballad worthy of more than one listen--- a little more melody and a little less legerdemain bring the aforementioned Chapin or even early Tom Pacheco to mind. Well done. The one clunker here might well be another's favorite: You Left Me, Now You Won't Leave Me Alone. While the lyrics are clever, chord progressions and performance are a bit mundane. Still and all, listenable. Once again, Another Useless Memory recreates the heydays of folk. For some reason, Harry Chapin again comes to mind, but I'm sure you would have your own points of reference.
It is to Shain's credit that his songs bring to mind the very edges of other musicians without losing identity. He has a definite touch with the lyric and has recently moved to Nashville to shop around, whether it be his songs or for a label. Nashville has nurtured some and crushed many more, but he should be fine. Dog On a Chain is hardly the stuff of which Nashville roadkill is made.
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