I first saw Jon Shain at the tiny black box theater at the Mansfield Music and Arts Society. By chance, the Patriots’ Divisional Playoff game against the Jaguars was scheduled at the same time, so needless to say there were a few cancellations. Excluding the two owners, the opening act and her mother, there were about four people in the audience. Calling the show intimate is something of an understatement. But truthfully, I can’t imagine a better way to get introduced to Shain’s deceptively nuanced music.
Jon Shain is, in a word, endearing. He is genuinely funny, a little self-effacing, and humble about his talent. Instead of getting flustered or frustrated, he embraced the tiny crowd in front of him that evening with the same light-hearted conversational tone that pervades his music. If while listening to his album you think it sounds like he is singing with a smirk, trust me, he is.
The warmth and conviviality of his music (present even in his most serious songs) almost betray his talent as both a musician and a songwriter. The simple, comfortable moods he evokes are the product of some serious planning and execution. Though a native of Massachusetts, Shain has spent most of his career in North Carolina studying and playing southern Americana. He is a master blues guitarist, which is a distinction you may not fully appreciate until you see the amount of finger acrobatics that go into coaxing those sounds from an acoustic guitar. The southern blues influence can be seen in his songwriting as well. Though the songs on this album sound little like the gut-bucket blues of Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, Shain was clearly influence by their everyman tone. Even at their most poetic, Shain’s lyrics are based on simple words and simple ideas that add up to common stories with uncommon depth.
Shain’s latest album Army Jacket Winter is definitely worthy of a listen. His songs range from the wistfully reflective (“Silvertone,” “Cornershops and Subway Trains”) to the purely comic (“Song for JoJo,” “Flat Earth Crowd”). He also puts together one of the most poignant and least heavy-handed songs about Hurricane Katrina that I’ve heard (and I’ve become something of a connoisseur of that genre). Still, to really appreciate him, I suggest seeing him live. He is returning to New England for a few shows this summer, so check his tour dates and mark your calendar. If you’re lucky there’ll be an important Sox game that night and you can have him all to yourself.
Albums available at CD Baby.