JC Lives! Yes, the musical savior I last exalted for his 2005 release, Idols of Exile, has returned. It’s not as if Jason Collett was lost or absent for a long period of time. In fact, none of the members of Broken Social Scene ever seem to stop making music of some kind. Though three years can seem like a lifetime when you anticipate something as much as I’ve anticipated more music from Collett. And yes, after three years away from the studio, the rock was rolled away from his Toronto cave and out stepped another glorious album steeped in rock and roll tradition. Here’s to Being Here is even better than I could have expected. It’s an album in the grand mythology of albums, one that can stand alongside the best rock records by the most revered artists.
I know that’s saying a lot, but once you hear Here’s to Being Here (and that’s a lot of homonyms), then you’ll understand. Critics have been known to bandy about grandiose phrases like, `the next Dylan,’ at times, and I’m sure Treble’s been guilty of that as well. But it really wasn’t until I heard this album that I started to understand how someone could even being to make a claim like that in the first place. While Dylan has loads of recognizable songs, purists know that he was a master of the album format. To some, listening to “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat,” without then listening to “Just Like a Woman” is a crime for which you should be locked up forever. Here’s to Being Here is just like that. Each song is an important part of a whole. Listening to one track may be enjoyable, like eating a few spicy green beans off a plate of delicious Thai food, but it’s not the entire satisfying meal.
For this album, Collett stripped everything down. And, man, was that the right move! Though, at this point, I think Collett could make an album with a kazoo, a jug and a comb with tissue paper and it would still turn out to be a miraculous affair. Relying just on his touring band, Paso Mino, and a scant few guest appearances (far less than on his previous album, and Andrew Whiteman’s appearance is somewhat obvious in the worldly feel of “Charlyn, Angel of Kensington”), JC pares each song down to its barest essence, in an attempt to get back to what he calls `rock and roll music.’ He makes a clear distinction that it’s not rock, not rock and roll, but rock and roll music. While those may be semantics, the proof is in the pudding. “Out of Time” is one of the best pure `rock and roll music’ numbers I’ve heard in a long time. With a Dylan-like delivery, extraordinarily muscular yet elastic guitar lines doing an acrobat dance between decades, and a joyous chorus of `ooh’s’ that recall the Stones’ “Waiting on a Friend.” And again, that song could easily be taken out and be considered a classic track, but it’s even more impressive as part of the collected group of songs that is Here’s to Being Here.
Dylan was great because he essentially put poetry to music, and not just one type, though Collett would have you call it all rock and roll. Sure, he broke the acoustic barrier and did a bunch of other really great stuff, but at his core, he was a poet. So, too, is Collett. Take a few lines from “Henry’s Song,” as he paints a picture with, “Hopeless and romantic drunk on the blood of love / a fool with intention though naturally blessed / his heart many times broken but never with regret / always rash with wisdom outrageous and unkept / talking like St. Francis in a very friendly woman’s bed.” In “No Redemption Song,” a paean to his Canadian homeland, he pays homage not to just Bob Marley with the title, but also to Dylan with a reference to `Highway 401′ and possibly even to Jackson Browne by singing he’s `running on empty.’ (Not to mention the fact that Jason Mercer, longtime collaborator of Ani DiFranco, plays the banjo in this one!) In “Through the Night These Days,” Collett gives us some glimmer of hope in these troubled times as he sings, “our love will win what war will lose.”
So, he’s got the tradition of great rock and roll, the words of a poet, and a voice of what I can only assume is what a seraph would sound like. And I’m sure that if angels exist, they listen to Dylan and the Stones. I wouldn’t have thought that one of my favorite albums of the decade, Idols of Exile, could be topped, but by tightening up the band, and just doing what Jason Collett does best, write great rock and roll songs, also playing and singing each one as if they were not just important, but fun, he’s done just that. Here’s to Being Here (taken from a poem of Paul Haines, Emily’s father) is a toast to living in the present, and we can all take a little lesson from that, but that’s also selling this album short. Just like we all listen to Blonde on Blonde and Exile on Main Street today, I’m sure that in thirty to forty years, you’ll find me an old man in a recliner, listening to the music of Jason Collett.