Jason Baker — 2 October 2019 on Rocket Shop Radio Hour
On Wednesday, October 2, Jason Baker walked into the studio with two guitars, four songs, and one new album. His album, Common Man Blues, is currently available for streaming on his website, although it is currently only nine-tenths finished (as of recording the podcast). “The common man speaks for himself,” says Baker. So although Baker may see himself as a proud yet humble member of the human race, we’d like to think his talents are anything but common.
Baker opened with the album’s title track, “Common Man Blues.” Strumming away on a guitar borrowed from friend and recording companion Rik Palieri, Baker immediately introduced us to his folk influenced sound.
The album addresses a number of topics, and as with most of Baker’s songs he sings of prominent issues. Themes of species extinction, climate change, and refugees drive many of Jason Baker’s songs. That said, he intentionally avoids writing editorials, attempting to instead tell a story with each track. Baker’s topical messages remind listeners of other contemporary prophets, such as Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, or his friend (and friend of the show) Rik Palieri. Rik plays banjo on the album, as well as singing in his distinct baritone voice, which contrasts well with the kazoo in “We Don’t Know Any Better.”
Baker’s second song of the night was “You’ve Run Out of Places To Go,” which also comes off the new album. The song relates the experiences of a homeless man, with a sprinkling of dark comedy. Baker sings, “If life was a movie, it'd be a black comedy / If this was a TV show it’d be a hit / Who wouldn’t want to watch a man’s whole life turn to…this.”
Songs come from many muses in Baker’s world. “You’ve Run Out of Places To Go” started as a title line before unfolding into a full song. In another instance, Baker turned to the news for inspiration, as many artists do. But instead of just focusing on the major headlines, Baker combined everything he saw, from kids in cages to an iceberg blocking a port in Greenland, to begin a new song. “You never know what can end up as a decent song,” says Baker, adding that “songwriting is a whole lot of failure.” Often he’ll finish a song for the mental exercise, knowing full well that the manuscript will meet its demise at the recycling bin, or in a folder titled, “Meh.”
For the third installment in the night’s quadrilogy, Baker played the politically pertinent “The Great Big Wide Open Divide.” This song describes the state of the union, and all that Baker added to it tonight was the reminder that “pride is a sin.”
Returning to the album which dominated much of the night’s conversation, host Tom Proctor asked Baker if any lessons from his first album influenced the creation of Common Man Blues, to which Baker responded with an emphatic, “Absolutely.” First: don’t bite off more than you can chew. Baker’s first album was twenty-two songs long. “Common Man Blues” keeps the list at a quaint and manageable ten. You can always release another album if you have more. Two: use more than one take, and more than one mic. Though you might not have all of the tools necessary for a stellar recording, you should have the time, so at least get as many takes as you can. Third: learn to let go. Don’t be afraid to cut things out, or leave them be. Yes, a song can always be better, but at some point you have to accept the flaws you perceive in it.
Baker finished off the night with “Let’s Fight the Sun.” A humorous take on a headline Baker read one morning, the song makes a serious case for adapting our lifestyles rather than changing the external universe. Instead of blocking the sun with an planet-sized umbrella, why don’t we fight climate change by consuming a little less?
There’s a lot on the docket for Jason Baker in the upcoming months. Besides designing a third album (and maybe a musical), Baker also has a host of shows coming. Notably, he’ll be at Ripton Community Coffeehouse’s open mic on October 5, the Double E on October 16, and at Gusto’s in Barre on October 26
Text by Luke Vidic.
Photo by James Lockridge.