Mention the name J Mascis and you are often rewarded with a sea of blank faces, mention Dinosaur Jr and the penny drops, “Oh, J Mascis…Yeah I know him”.
Ever since my ears fell on his earlier (late 80’s releases with Dinosaur Jr) work, I have had a long time love affair with that voice, you know the one, the one that sounds pained, drawn out, soul bearing. Couple it with the trademark squealing feedback driven guitars and you are onto a winning combination.
Fast forward nearly 30 years and picture J Mascis playing acoustic guitar, accompanied by some of the greatest names in music today (Pall Jenkins, Mark Mulcahy, Ken Maiuri and Cat Power) and you have ‘Tied to a Star’, his second solo acoustic offering which follows his 2011 solo ‘Several Shades of Why’.
Opening track ‘Me Again’ is a reminder of the power that one man, his guitar and a melody can bring to the senses, setting the scene perfectly for the album. ‘Every Morning’ is a more jaunty, upbeat affair, which lightens the mood somewhat.
‘Wide Awake’ features some brilliant finger picking guitar work coupled with J’s sweet vocals makes for a mesmerising experience. ‘Stumble’ features some old school Dinosaur Jr fuzz in the background, floating just underneath J’s tones. The fuzz threatens to take over, to drown the soothing acoustic guitar and, midway through the track, the drums kick and you think that it has won (cue a squealing solo), J manages to keep it on a short leash and controls it underneath a gently played electric guitar, wonderful stuff.
‘Drifter’ rewards with some brilliantly executed guitar work and carries on throughout, providing an instrumental interlude to the record. ‘Trailing Off’ returns us to the longing tones of melancholy that earlier tracks provided us with, followed by a thin slice of fuzz that subsides to allow the track to pick up a heavier pace prior to slowing to a lighter jog, allowing the listener time to catch up/regroup/fill up their glass of wine.
The album requires you to actually sit and listen, how many times do you think that you are listening to a record whilst you are doing chores? Cooking, ironing, helping the kids with homework? Do yourself a favour, turn the lights down low, grab a glass of wine, sit down, clear your mind and let the sounds of J Mascis and his acoustic guitar immerse you in his world for 40 minutes and 53 seconds, you’ll be glad you did!
Review by Steve Muscutt