Even with 13 studio albums to his name, he might just be our most underrated folk artist.
In November, more than 8,300 people watched him perform his entire debut album, pausing in between acoustic songs to share candid insights about his songwriting inspiration.
This time, Jennings will perform his fifth album, “Use Your Voice” (2004), start to finish.
That includes “The Light (Part II),” providing introspective catharsis on how we perceive life changes, letting go of the pain to realize that only the light around us is changing.
It also features the blissfully serene “Lemon Grove Avenue,” humming “mmm ba la da da da da” to poetic lyrics of pastoral imagery in a textbook example of visual storytelling.
You’ll also hear “Keepin’ it Real,” an upbeat vibe with a catchy hook: “Oh yes, my oh my.”
Born in Hawaii in 1975, Jennings moved to Pittsburgh and learned to play guitar at the age of 13 before dropping out of school and moving to Minneapolis to pursue music.
In 1997, he recorded his self-titled debut album on an analog four-track, playing all of the instruments himself. AllMusic.com called it “an amazingly realized work. A distinct sound and vocal style is evident, and there’s not one clunker on this entire disc,” including “Nothing,” “Butterfly,” “California,” “Big Sur” and “Darkness Between the Fireflies.”
His second album, “Birds Flying Away” (2000), featured protest songs such as “United States Global Empire,” “Dr. King” and “Black Panther,” singing, “Think of the dead in Vietnam, think of the dead in Birmingham, think of the freedom we don’t understand, asleep in a bed in a stolen land.” The New York Times compared the album to Dave Matthews.
His third album, “Century Spring” (2000), featured clever turns of phrases on nifty yarns such as “Sorry Signs on Cash Machines,” inspiring AllMusic.com to call Jennings “an accomplished pop troubadour yearning for romance” who will inspire listeners to “push the replay button to squeeze every ounce of charm from this enticing collection.”
His fourth album, “Simple Life” (2002), was a stripped-down acoustic set recorded in his friend’s living room on a two-track tape. AllMusic.com wrote: “Executed magnificently in a casual environment, its surely ranks among Mason Jennings’ finest work.”
Then came the aforementioned “Use Your Voice” (2004), which AllMusic.com called “a down-to-the-floorboards recording of quiet dignity, humorous grace, and elegant craft.” It’s easy to see why Jennings chose this album for Sunday’s livestream showcase.
American Songwriter called his sixth album, “Boneclouds” (2006), the “most dynamic and richly textured album” of his career, featuring the haunting “Jackson Square,” the romantic “If You Ain’t Got Love” and the live-in-the-moment masterpiece “Be Here Now,” boasting serious ring tone potential with the refrain, “Sun comes up and we start again.”
Fittingly, Jennings signed with Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records for “In the Ever” (2008), featuring “Something About Your Love,” “I Love You and Buddha Too,” “Fighter Girl” and “Your New Man,” which plays like a revenge song mixed with a stand-up comedy routine.
Over the past decade, he’s cranked out several more albums, including “Blood of Man” (2009), “The Flood” (2010), “Minnesota” (2011), “Always Been” (2013), “Wild Dark Metal” (2016) and “Songs From When We Met” (2018), proving to be one of his generation’s most prolific voices.