22 August 2008

The Ballad of Mraz

It's the end of summer, I had a few nice glasses of Chardonnay last night, and I'm at work with a fan blowing and lots of thoughts running through my head. To me, this screams Jason Mraz. Unfortunately, the bagel and fake sugared up coffee I'm having right now do not. Going from Mechanicsville, VA to singer/songwriter stardom, Mr. Mraz has come to represent an entire generation of surfing, raw foodist slackers that do nothing better with their time than smoke weed and trade philosophical musings. Although, what better time is there?

I've often wished I could live inside a song. There have been so many throughout the years that I want to be a part of in a bigger way than merely through my ears. Jason Mraz has several of these. Lately, I've been enthralled with "The Dynamo of Volition" off his latest album, We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. although I wouldn't be able to tell you what the words meant at all. It's a mixture of rap, pop, surf, rock, and maybe smooth jazz, CD101.9 style. Mraz himself likes the "yacht rock" music of Christopher Cross and Hall & Oates so it's no wonder his style almost mirrors that but in a younger package. He's done very slinky covers of "I Melt With You" and "Summer Breeze", he has song titles like "Live High" and "Curbside Prophet", and lyrics such as "And I can keep you eating out the palm of my hand, because the dope that we smoked was grown on my land, the words I burn they don't come from a can, the movie in my mind will be the winner at Cannes"... He seems a little crazy, which personally, I love.

Typically I have a problem with musicians being too corny. I think R.E.M. does this, the Talking Heads, etc but Mraz's corniness comes across a little more simplistic and honest than the others. Although I appreciate Michael Stipe as a person, particularly his affinity for the afterlife and the end of the world, I'm not sure I understand his music. It's probably my fault - music like that doesn't translate into anything I'm familiar with and like all people who are scared of what they don't understand, I prefer music that falls into my favorite, little categories. Of course, rock music in any fashion is probably far less corny than some of these singer/songwriters on par with Jason Mraz. People like Colton Graham, James Morrison, Brett Dennen - these characters need to tone it down dramatically or more precisely: tone it up. I have seen both Morrison and Dennen open for John Mayer (the master of finding cheesy artists) and they were almost non-music. How many times can one possibly say things like, "Oh Love, beautiful love, you are my happy day, you are my sunshine"? Corniness burrows in musicians copying one another to cash in on a flash in the pan moment or better yet, ones trying to make nothing into something, i.e. one single line repeating twelve times in order to form a catchy chorus.

Something that must be appreciated about Jason Mraz is his eccletic nature and lack of the obvious. He probably wouldn't even know how to copy someone else's style, regardless of the Jack Johnson comparisons. On his sophmore release, Mr. A-Z, Mr. Mraz decided to go wild with the production values and maybe took some things overboard but still managed to create a couple sublime songs ("Clockwatching" and "Bella Luna" specifically). Mraz messing up a song is like having a beautiful living room with an ugly air conditioner out the window: it may seem out of place but you still have a lot of positives to balance it out. The positives on Mraz's side begin with his angelic voice. When a 30 year old man can sing "At Last" and have it come off just as sweet as Etta James' version, you know there's something special.

An added bonus is that I believe Jason Mraz is a nice guy. When I was sixteen or so, I met him at the Stone Pony and gave him a stuffed cat. Strange, I know, but he has several songs about cats... Anyway, he took the cat and was petting its head for a little while and kept thanking me for it. He posed for a picture with my best friend and me and chatted for a couple minutes. Things like that mean a lot to a young girl and they are never forgotten. My friend and I had waited hours in the sweltering heat with our general admission tickets that night and couldn't even buy a soft drink later on because we had spent all our money on the tickets and merchandise. This being the day after I went four hours away to see him in Providence, RI. I have an overwhelming appreciation for music I enjoy apparently.

Jason Mraz is a genre of his own. For further proof take a listen to the following songs or watch my highly suggested video of him singing the Hall & Oates classic, "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" from Dick Clark's New Year's Eve special. He's a dynamo.

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