Singer-songwriter Jordan Chassan delivers a unique blend of musical styles on his newest effort East of Bristol, West of Knoxville. Chassan, a New Jersey native, first made a name for himself in the seventies on the Bowery at CBGB’s during the legendary New York club’s glory daze of punk rock destruction. Once he had established himself in the Big Apple, Chassan migrated to Nashville where he perfected the unique musical recipe you hear today. The Chassan musical pie calls for one cup of countrified folk sensibility, with a half stick of jazz, and just a pinch of the blues.
On East of Bristol, West of Knoxville, Chassan has written songs which deal with the longing and sadness of the open road. His lost but loveable voice accentuates his songs, and the lonesome spirit of these tunes benefits from the shaky ache of Chassan’s voice. It is as if these songs are lonely and sad but hopeful for happiness, sort of how a long, deserted stretch of highway can be. A perfect example can be found in track five, titled “Wound Up Way Too Tight,” which features guest vocals by Gillian Welch.
I’m goin’ away, don’t you want to go? /
California, Mexico, I’m goin’ away don’t you want to go?
“Stranger In A Strange Land” is another tale of the road, which chronicles a man’s search for happiness. The song’s bluesy opening line hits home the idea that a search for happiness can also be an escape from misery.
600 miles down that old two lane highway, tryin’ to find my way out of the blues
Chassan is adept at writing lyrics in which he remembers the sadness of the past, but looks ahead to another destination in life and living. The open road is Jordan Chassan’s metaphor for escape from the melancholy of existence. East of Bristol, West of Knoxville has a lonesome feel to it, but Chassan’s songwriting and musical presentation keep him from sounding too pathetic. While Chassan’s songs abound with the lonesome spirit of the road, it is his self-deprecating sense of humor that keeps him from coming off anything like the Morrissey of Nashville. Balancing the record with more bluesy feeling songs like “Stranger In a Strange Land,” and more light hearted ones like “Cheater, Cheater, Cheater” made the recording more enjoyable and interesting, and it is this fact that keeps Chassan from coming off stale or boring.
Chassan’s lyrics are bluesy, without trying too hard to be that way. He can easily lose all seriousness about himself and remain soulful in his songwriting without being too pitiful, as heard on track two, entitled “A Day Like Today”:
It’s hard to be blue on a day like today, but I think I can do it/
it’s hard to be blue, but I’m up to the task, ya gotta really put you’re mind to it all I gotta do, is start thinkin’ of you, and pretty soon I’m blue as can be ain’t even tryin’, already cryin’, on a day like today.
“A Day Like Today” is excellent at capturing that sense of self-deprecation that I discussed before. In this day and age it seems like it would be very easy to walk through life without having to try too hard to feel sad, but in this track Chassan just has to think of his muse and whammo!, woe is he. Anyone can relate to this song, because it always seems that when we are reminded of past loves, we have no trouble conjuring up those old feelings of heartache. Even when that lover is deep within the realm of our past, all we have to do is pass by that old restaurant, coffee house, or park that we would share our sweet nothings at, and we too can “be blue on a day like today.”
The highlight of the record, for me, is “Lost Along the Way,” the best example of Chassan’s blend of musical styles that is distinctly his own. The track starts out with a nice blues riff played on an acoustic guitar that can be heard throughout the song. This riff is accentuated with a harmonica solo that manages not to sound too much like it came out of one of the Blues Brothers movies, and a chorus that I think is just perfect for capturing the feeling of the record.
Lost along the way, a little something I lost along the way/
damn those rainy days, a little something I lost along the way
Chassan has blended roots music with other distinct elements, most notably being the blues, to bring us a loathing but humorous voice. In retrospect this voice is pretty darn original in this trash heap of modern rock. The more I heard Jordan Chassan, the more he became sweet, like the voice of an old friend I hadn’t heard from in a while. In some weird way, the fact that Chassan got his start as a punk doesn’t surprise me. I guess that punk rock lets decent musicians and songwriters get rid of some of the more useless ideologies of youth so that they can really blossom into talented musicians as adults. I’m not saying that Chassan is any Tom Waits or anything, but I definitely look forward to hearing more from him in the future.