Category: Jason Mraz

The Folkier Side of Jason Mraz:
covers of Dylan, Kermit, Spirit In The Sky, and more!

July 31st, 2010 — 11:37 pm

It’s been over a year since we took on the folkier side of a decidedly non-folk artist here at Cover Lay Down. But as previous features on Beck, KT Tunstall, Evan Dando and Sarah McLachlan have demonstrated, there’s ample room in the folkworld for singer-songwriters who strip down occasionally, and/or use elements of folk music in constructing their career narratives. Too, recent changes in the ways in which folk festival lineups are managed speak amply to the palatability of such marginalia as “folk enough” for the term. And listening for folk in the larger popular ebb-and-flow of genre definition is a healthy exercise for folkwatchers, as we continue our lifelong journey to explore the boundaries and influences of that music we consider home.

Today, then, after a long hiatus, we return to the folkier-side fold with a feature on 33 year old chart sensation Jason Mraz. He’s got a beat, and a pair of Pop Grammys to boot, but there’s nothing to be afraid of here, folkfans – just some plain good music that will make you smile.

If you’re a Top 40 fan, the name Jason Mraz is decidedly familiar: the man’s most recent studio album, 2008 release We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things., debuted at number three on the Billboard charts, ultimately selling over 2 million records worldwide, and two of its greatest hits won pop-category Grammys last year for vocal performance. But I’ve always acted under the assumption that our primary audience here at Cover Lay Down skews away from pop, eschewing the charts – and in the case of this particular clear- and slippery-voiced tenor, this is one singer-songwriter who deserves respect from the folk side of the canopy even though he hardly needs it to stay in the shade.

Part of the new school of hard to categorize indie alternative artists, Mraz’ mix incorporates rock, pop, folk, blues, reggae and other forms; though much of his radio-ready releases are grounded in acoustic instrumentation, he’s not averse to a particularly bouncy radiopop or rockband sound, either. But as noted in the write-up for his recent Levi’s Pioneer Session, the man is a pop folkie at heart, with the soul of a busker. And – in part because of his gentle vocal delivery and a preference for basic song-supportive synth-bass-and-brush production – it’s easy to imagine much of his studio work finding a home on the Contemporary Folk shelf.

More generally, to my ears, the Virginia-based hipster has always had strong folk elements at the core of his sound, though it can take the occasional solo acoustic performance to reveal them. And others seem to agree – in March of 2003, for example, even as his high-concept debut single, the hip-hop lite-rock hit The Remedy (I Won’t Worry), was hitting the airwaves, Mraz was opening for Tracy Chapman at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

In other words: Jason Mraz may not be the typical folk artist featured here. But if his songbook is catchy as hell, it’s also lighthearted and often confessional, in ways certainly palatable to the breadth of our folkwatching audience, if the recent resurgence of 2008 reggaefolk smash-hit original I’m Yours on our local AAA radio station is any indication. And in coverage, the man just soars. We’ll kick off today’s hybrid acoustic-electric set with two Dylan covers, just to prove it.

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk songlists and features each Wednesday, Sunday, and the occasional otherday, fueled solely on CDs, coffee, and reader donations. Coming soon: a drive up the American West Coast precipitates a fortnight of folksongs, genre features, and singer-songwriter coversets in tribute to the great state of California.

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