Identity Crisis: Jason Collett’s Visions of Canada

This article was originally published by Monday Magazine and can be found here.

Canada is Jason Collett’s most consistent and compelling muse. Collett’s songs explore our country in all its diversity: they swim through the black waters of Parry Sound, they get lost in the bustling crowds of Toronto’s Kensington market and hide in the rain drenched streets of Vancouver.

For over a decade, Collett has managed to at once reflect and create our multifarious Canadian identity. While Collett obviously has a deep and abiding love for our Country, as evidenced in his 2009 single “Love Song to Canada”, he refuses to ignore some of the less romantic realities we, as a nation, currently face.

Collett’s most recent release, Reckon, paints a deeply foreboding portrait of a country on the verge of collapse: jobs disappear, entire cities are abandoned and relationships dissolve as we, along with the characters who populate Collett’s songs, wonder what is happening.

While critics have been quick to define Reckon as a “political album”, Collett seems wary of the phrase.

“Most political songs are just unlistenable” Collett says “They’re often terribly written with terrible melodies. Nobody needs another rant, it serves no purpose. And nobody needs to hear a whole bunch of rhetoric either.”

“So I was sensitive to that.” Collett continues, “I know that there’s this, for lack of a better word, political undercurrent on the album, but when you get down to it, it’s more about economics–the collapse of 2008 and how it has effected so many people’s lives.”

Collett’s sensitivity cannot be overstated; Reckon is never preachy. Instead, Collett tells densely woven, evocative tales with each of the album’s fifteen austere tracks. He channels the voices of people as diverse as God-fearing Christians, rock’n’roll daddies, and silver haired hippies with staggering precision: the diversity of the characters that inhabit Collett’s songs defines our culture.

“Ours is a pluralistic culture of minorities”, Collett confides, “and we’re not only shaped by liberal Western thought and philosophy. We’re shaped by the unique culture of the First Peoples that has been here for thousands of years. They have a different way of looking at things, and that is what gives us our unique culture. Our culture has a lot to offer the rest of the world.”

Reckon’s diversity of characters is mirrored by the wide range of musical styles it engages. From the stripped down, understated vulnerability of opener “Pacific Blue”, through the lush orchestral swells of “Jasper Johns Flag” to the hip sneer of “You’re Not The One and Only Lonely One”, Reckon proves to be Collett’s most agile record to date.

“This record was me stepping back a little,” Collett say, “I’m looking back at the whole catalogue of stuff I’ve made, so a certain amount of it is a return to me being a true solo artist, but also moving forward into being comfortable being a more mature artist and challenging myself to write a record that is very much a part of these times and if that ended up being political, so be it.”

On Tuesday night, Victorians have an opportunity to catch Collett as he begins a tour across the country he so eloquently depicts in song. The show is being held at St. Anne’s Cathedral, but we’d be misguided to expect a sermon: Collett’s not bringing a soap box, much less a pulpit. He will be bringing a multitude of voices with him, however, voices that will bleed into one coherent chorus of a country so difficult to define. If we listen carefully, we might just realize that the voice is our own.

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