May 05, 2003

Jeff Hanson "Son"

Jeff Hanson sings like a girl. Don't misunderstand--that's not an insult, and I'm not trying to pick a fight with Kill Rock Stars' newest star. It's just that..well...Hanson's voice is so angellic, so high-pitched, it's almost like an aural Crying Game. You'd be forgiven for thinking that Hanson had wanted his songs to be sung by a woman, like Stephin Merritt did when he started making records. Once you get past the initial shock of expectation, you'll find that Son is an extremely wonderful album of folk-rock--never too folky, never too rocky. At times, such as on the lovely "If You Ever Stay" and "Laughing At Nothing," you'll also swear that Hanson was secretly Elliott Smith.

Hanson is one of the few singer-songwriters who actually excites me. It needs not be stated, but I shall: in this genre, there's an awful lot of crap. Instead of falling victim to the cliches that hound most folk-singer slobs, Hanson clearly avoids the dull doldrums of yawn-inducing voice and guitar by deftly harmonizing with himself, often switching from acoustic guitar to electric from song to song as well as from solo to full-band backing. I've also got to praise his thoughtful use of piano as well.

Son's only flaw would be the fact that his strongest feature--full band accompaniment--is also his least utilized. "You Are The Reason" and "If You Ever Stay" were too-brief ventures into this sound, and they're easily the best numbers of the record. Though Son is varied enough to never become monotonous, I kept expecting to hear more full-band arrangments, but they never came. Personally, I'd love to hear "As Honest As A Liar Can Be" and "Laughing at Nothing" with a full band backing, because they would be monsters.

Still, that's only a minor quibble. Maybe Hanson will expand his sound on his next record--or maybe he'll stick with Son's near-perfect formula. Either way, the results will most certainly be rewarding. Son is a quiet little jewel of a record that's always a pleasure to listen to--not too sad, not too happy..just right!

--Joseph Kyle

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