All right, let's have a show of hands: How many of you like your albums filled with so much lovey-doveyness that your teeth are likely to rot before you get to the end? If your hand is still raised, then you might be game for Mason Jennings' Always Been; if not, then you might want to skip the rest of this review.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with love songs or waxing philosophical about the effects of twitterpation; but, with Minneapolis-based Jennings' latest release--his 11th album since 1998--we're essentially talking about an entire album of that sort of thing, and it will likely prove to be too much for most people to handle--even if heartfelt, touchy-feely crooning is their bag.
There are moments of Always Been (Stats and Brackets, 2013) that are quite nice. The hopeful feel of the dreamy (and aptly titled) orchestral folk track "Dreaming" is hard not to like, even if it feels reminiscent of, well, a ton of other artists and songs; you just can't help but root for someone with that sort of belief. On the folk-pop track "So Good," we get reminded of why a good woman is hard to find--and it's usually because a guy isn't paying enough attention. The most creative exploration of this theme is "Witness," which is a country-style riff on revival tunes, except in this case, Jennings is singing about finding love instead of Jesus, but you get the idea.
Having said all this, the lyrics do get tired pretty quickly. The acoustic folk-pop track "Patti & Robert" tells us for the millionth time how much love can free a person from pain and suffering. Folk numbers like "Instrument" give us the old spiel of how someone isn't good enough for someone else, and on the closer, "Just Try," we're treated to another one of those reminders that you are foolish to pass up a chance for love when it comes your way because you never know when or if it will again.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
The problem with Jennings' album isn't so much the content, it's that there isn't a ton of variety. Yep, love is great, it can cure a number of ailments, it makes you want to be a better person, but some of this well-meaning material starts to sound a bit like a greeting card by the end, losing more than a little of its meaning along the way.
In the end, Always Been is a simultaneously saccharine and heavy-handed experience, fit only for the most sentimental of moods (and listeners).