THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
Singer-Songwriter Jason Dean’s Expansive Musical Memoir
21st November, 2019 0
With his new release Midwest Coast Revival, singer-songwriter and guitarist Jason Dean has created a powerful musical chronicle of innocence, tempered by the architecture of maturity, and rendered with detailed focus on the freedom and liberation to be found when one follows their dreams and courts the outer boundaries of expectation.
With five songs recorded in California and five in Michigan—the latter with Andy Reed at Reed Recording Company in Bay City—the ten tracks contained on Midwest Coast Revival comprise a musical diary of sorts that showcases the nuanced nature of Jason’s songwriting skills, which are reminiscent of such lyrical luminaries as Elvis Costello, John Lennon, and Todd Rundgren (all profound influences upon Jason’s musical sensibilities), with their shared penchant for creating strong musical hooks on which to hang the deeply personal and colorfully detailed notation of their lyrical imagery.
“I’ve always been a fan of those musicians who are self-contained and can go off in so many directions, not limited by expectations,” states Jason.
He assembled his band JD & the Salingers, whose core players include Pat Cummings (drums), Conor Larkin (bass, vocals), and Jason’s wife Allison Brunner Dean (vocals). Steve Hornak (guitar, vocals) joins the band for some shows as well. The new release also features the musical talents of a panoply of top-shelf guest artists including Donny Brown, Kevin Cole, Loren Kranz, Ron ‘Rosco’ Selley, and Keith Carolan. Moreover, Reed’s production skills blend the dynamic range and nuance of Jason’s material perfectly within the evolving context of each track, which collectively contain a personal backstory and evolution as intriguing and fascinating as the album itself.
Jason’s early musical career began with guitar lessons around the age of 9, and even at this early age his motivation flowed from the urge to write his own songs and learn chords to be able to put his songs together.
“My mom and dad always had music on in the house and both were active in musical theatre with Bay City Players and other organizations,” he recalls. “My mom [Lenore Nixon] played piano and taught English at Bay City Central and my Dad [Bob Dean] sang at the legendary Terry & Jerry’s restaurant for years. I remember at an early age listening to everything from My Fair Lady to Abbey Road, and a lot of that stuff worked its way into my subconscious and fueled my interest in music.”
Midwest Coast Revival marks Jason’s third official release and his first since 2005, when his politically charged power pop band Puddy Tat released the EP Not Declawed. The album included a searing opus, “In Shambles,” which made its way into giftbags at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. “That was an interesting experience because I’ve found myself to be an activist in the sense that I feel my mission in writing songs is to reach people; and I’ve always had very strong opinions on political topics.”
Although he doesn’t consider himself a modern-day Phil Ochs, Jason says he created Puddy Tat specifically for showcasing the political and religious topical material (e.g., “Jesus Is a Democrat”) that he was writing at the time. “It was kind of a surefire way to split an audience and see their true colors,” notes Jason. Indeed, with the song “New Day” on his latest release, which functions as a short commentary on the present landscape in America, Jason says over the past 15 years he’s learned how to inject emotional punch into his music without resorting to political diatribes, adding the caveat that “being politically aware is certainly appropriate in this day and age.”
The personal odyssey that is beautifully captured on Midwest Coast Revival began when Jason decided to drive to California in 1990. “A friend of mine from college and I formed our own convoy, but his car broke down in Illinois somewhere, so we packed everything we could into my Mazda RX7 hatchback and made our way cross country,” he recalls. “My family thought I’d be back in Michigan by the end of the year. Miraculously, I lived in California for more than two decades—in San Diego for a year, then Northern California in Napa Valley for several years, and then to L.A. for the rest of that time.”
After cutting his teeth at various open mic nights and coffee houses where musicians would congregate, another friend from college, Jeff Robinson, convinced him to take the plunge and move to L.A. Jeff worked as a second engineer at Master Control Studios in Burbank, and had access to the studio when it wasn’t booked. “He needed a roommate and it was a fortuitous situation. We wrote some songs that ended up on my first record.” In addition to free recording time, Jason also had the opportunity to meet and hang out with some of the artists who came through the studio in the early 1990s—Toad the Wet Sprocket, Grant Lee Buffalo, Eddie Money, Scott Wieland, Peter Holsapple, and others. Joy in Mudville, Jason’s debut with Jason Dean Band Experience, was released in 2000.
In early 2019, Jason and Jeff reconnected after many years and Jeff, who now owns Third Monk Brewery in South Lyon, offered to do the final master of Midwest Coast Revival.
As fate would have it, the tracks appearing on Midwest Coast Revival that were recorded in Los Angeles were intended for another project that was never completely finished. “Many different things were happening. I was going through a messy divorce, and at that point I stopped performing and stepped away from the whole music thing. That was 10 years ago. I went back into journalism and became the managing editor for an award-winning West Coast magazine and met my future wife.
“In fact, the last song on Midwest Coast Revival (“Always Home”) was a song I wrote for Allison for our ‘Michigan’ wedding. We married in early 2016 in California, then moved to Michigan in the spring.
“During our wedding here, we played on the backyard deck of the house that my Mom once owned,” he continues. “When she retired to Florida in 1999, she sold it to a couple that was good friends with my sister. I hadn’t been inside for many years until August 2015, when we came back to Michigan for the wedding of my friend Keith Carolan. I was showing Allison the old neighborhood, and the owner happened to be home and invited us inside for a tour. Back in California two months later, we were surprised to learn that the house would be going up for sale. We looked at each other and saw an opportunity. So basically, I came home to a time capsule.
“I got a lot of inspiration and motivation to write some new music, along with the opportunity to put it together with some of the best players in this area. Finally, my vision for Midwest Coast Revival started taking shape,” articulates Jason. “The songs I’d started in California and the new material I was writing here in Michigan I felt were important, so I developed the idea of assembling an album of songs that tell a story. In this day and age so much about music is focused on the single track, but this album is really my playlist for what went on in my life—the peaks and valleys—through the lows and the high points.”
“The earlier songs from the first ‘L.A. portion’ of the album contain some precious material,” reflects Jason. “My nephew and niece were the inspiration for one song [The Boy From Signal Mountain], and another song is about a Julian Cope concert that I saw in London at a place called Blackheath Halls. I’ve always been a huge fan of Cope because he used his success as a springboard to buck convention and carve his own path, much the way Todd Rundgren has—on his own terms.”
Jason notes that recording with Andy Creighton in L.A. and Andy Reed in Michigan produced similarly fulfilling results. “Andy Creighton became a close friend and collaborator over the years, and he’s also one of my favorite L.A. songwriters. [Andy Reed] has great instincts and works with such a variety of artists, and he knows how to build a song. Even though we hadn’t known each other for very long when we started tracking, I learned very quickly that, because of our overlapping tastes, that he knew what was appropriate for the material I was introducing.”
JD & the Salingers are booking shows throughout Michigan in support of the album, and Jason and Pat perform regularly on Sunday evenings at White’s Bar, occasionally joined by others. The full band will be performing a set at the Review’s 13th Annual Wishing Upon the Stars Holiday Showcase that will be happening at The Stables in Bay City on Sunday, December 15, from 4 to 10 PM.
Much of the charm, power, and poignancy of Midwest Coast Revival comes from Jason’s ability to make the memories and perspectives harvested from his past a shared experience from which the listener can glean their own lessons and insights, which I believe is the most we can expect from any artist of merit.
The album is available for download and purchase on every major digital music platform. You can learn more about Jason and his music at facebook.com/jdandthesalingers and jdandthesalingers.com.
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THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)