Brent Mason’s eleventh album, “Fireflies,” is full of twists and turns, delights and surprises. Plainspoken lyrics reminisce and ponder days long gone, loves long lost and what it means to move on, if that is even still possible. “Well you might think of what you need, is coming down the line / Show up at the station, the train’ll run on time / Do it right and living clean, follow all the rules / But there’s vultures on the wires and there’s pigeons on the stool / Give your head shake / Give your head shake / Shake, Shake, Shake,” Brent sings plaintively in “Give Your Head A Shake,”sounding momentarily like a weary Townes Van Zandt. He further hints that the state we find ourselves in is mostly mystifying, if not down right discouraging. “You can feed on all the news / Fill your head with shame / And all of the atrocities done in someone’s name / Thoughts and prayers fill the air like wishes and balloons / You might think it‘s coming / Coming real soon / Give your head shake / Give your head shake / Shake, Shake, Shake.” Of course the question that begs answering is what? What is coming real soon?
These songs shape into a reflection on what this “coming” might resemble, but like all wise men of a certain age and travelled distance know, sometimes the question is more important than the answer. The little things, like Mason’s reference to “Sugaree,” the 1972 Grateful Dead classic tale of being on the run, may be oblivious to some during “Give Your Head A Shake,” yet references to past cultural iconography and songwriting are a prevailing, intentionally recurring theme across this albums’ ten songs.
In “Deja Blues,” a strong rocker surely meant for a car radio on full blast, Mason calls out to Hank Williams’ cheating heart, but it’s now a “Rebel without a clue…a Cadillac stalled on the county line.” These clues point us somewhere in imagination that is clouded with demarcations covered up in blue. Simple strummed guitar outlines a lyric of winter love and old goodbyes during “Cold Love,” which is perhaps the most personal of the songs on this collection. “I followed footprints in the snow / They lead me far from what I know / Got covered by four strong and lonely winds / I walk beneath the winter sky / Aurora Borealis eye / I know that you’re not coming back again,” Mason recites, perhaps referring to days gone by as to a loved one. Deceptive in its portrayal of longing and loss, “Cold Love” simmers with a heartbeat that filters through the remaining songs, like a coda.
“Frogs In A Pot,” with its New Orleans street march beat and slow crawl horns, is funny and infectious. Aptly titled, the song brings to the mind the old joke that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. Mason uses the metaphor to his advantage in this tune, admonishing: “Goodbye Norma Jean, so long Jimmy Dean, the party’s over / Lemmings on the ledge, with bets that we can’t hedge, or even cover / Hollywood and Vine, never saw the signs, in time / Frogs in a pot, believe it or not / Frogs in a pot, and the water’s getting hot / Hot, hot, hot.” Directly quoting the old Calypso, conga dance by Arrow, “Hot, Hot Hot,” Mason and his merry band of singers dance out the final phrases as the band turns up the heat.
The album has a stunning trio of country rockers: “Running Out Of Road,” “Saddles In The Sand,” and “White Rats” – the latter offering the most scathing of Mason’s observations. Clearly, the songwriter is filled with perplexed dread for a world lost in its own confusion, unaware of the road ahead. With its powerful guitar stanzas and pounding drum, Mason sings passionately and purposefully: “Fluorescent lights that make you numb / Resentment flavours every crumb / Conspiracies of deaf and dumb and blind / On and on and on / White Rats.”
Brent Mason is a well known songwriter from Saint John, NB, where, to summarize from his artist profile, his Wednesday nights, hosting O’Leary’s Open Mic Night are legend. Twenty-five years at this regular gig has earned him the moniker “Godfather of the Saint John Music Scene.” He’s co-written several recorded songs with award winning artist, Jessica Rhaye, and conducts songwriting workshops in schools throughout the province. Brent is also a published writer and filmmaker whose conceptual mini-series, “Grave Concerns,” was picked up by CBC and broadcast nationally. These artistic “crop rotation” techniques into other genres finds Brent working on stories and word craft that informs his writing across the board.
There are treasures of many rarities to be found on this album, with its sharp social commentary and personal meditations, but the title song “Fireflies,” reveals the delicate emotions that stir, still, within the veteran’s songwriting soul: “I was living the stranger’s life / I let the light close its eyes / I forgot about the reasons why / I forgot about the fireflies.” Surrounded by lush echoing pedal steel, swelling organ pads and electric guitar reverb, Brent sings: “In the dead of night I still hold you tight / That you don’t even know / How could I forget / Let you go and yet, I still see the glow / Blink, blink, blink, don’t go out / Blink, blink, blink, don’t go out.” Sing this refrain then, quietly to yourself, in moments of doubt and consternation, and you will recognize why this album, “Fireflies,” is so precious.
Produced by Grant Heckman with Tim Davidson
Recorded, mixed & mastered by Tim Davidson at Ripple Effect Studios
All songs written by Brent Mason except “Cold Love written by Brent Mason and Jessica Rhaye.