When you listen to the music of Atlanta-based, singer-songwriter Jason Howell, you hear the sound of a man who seems to have an intimate relationship with pain. His music makes its home at the darker end of the Americana spectrum. It's all minor chords and open sounds that remind me of Ray Lamontagne. Howell moved near Atlanta, GA in 2007 and there he began to perform in coffee shops and bars. He's played several times at Eddie's Attic, the famous venue that brought a large following to acts like The Civil Wars and John Mayer.
The songs on his debut album, Everywhere Out Of Place, come from a life spent growing up overseas and finding himself constantly in a state of transition. A title that is very cleverly made, it describes that particular state of confusion when you don't seem to belong anywhere. Sonically, the album is very much guitar-based with touches of violin and Wurlitzer piano. He recorded the album at The Cottage in Atlanta with producer Damon Moon. "Nineveh", the lead off track, tells the story of a man running from the love of God just as Jonah did in the Bible. You expect to hear a jazz song with the intro to "The Cobweb Song,” but are instead greeted by the dark folk sound that characterizes much of the album. The main character in the song is looking at the house he inhabits and wondering if the cobwebs he sees are actually his regrets as dust continues to settle on the floors. "A Worthy Prize" explores a crisis of faith as Howell sings, "I want to believe so badly but I can't seem to let go."
A somewhat more upbeat song, "Cathy,” gives us a bit of a break from the very heavy material with lines like "We can let the music swallow our troubles and the road". There's even a whistle in the song that would make Andrew Bird proud. "Faithful,” "Calendars,” "Harvest" and "Strays" all continue with the themes found in "A Worthy Prize;” struggling with faith and struggling to have hope.Howell touches on a life spent moving around with the song "Arizona.” As the song plays, he moves from longing to be back in a place to realizing that it isn't his home. As much as he thought he missed it, he just doesn't belong. "Anyone But You" is just a sweet song about the simple joys of being in love with someone, complete with piano and glockenspiel. "Memphis" is a series of questions that culminate in deciding that you're too far from home and that you need to find a way to get back.
Overall, the album feels very reminiscent of early Pedro The Lion, not in sound but in content. Everywhere out of Place is an album that deals very frankly with struggling with one's faith and finding it hard to believe that a love that big can exist.
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