As one grows into adulthood, remaining steadfastly single-minded about one’s pursuits gets increasingly difficult. The musician becomes a band mate navigating the creative energies of those around them. He becomes a boyfriend, a husband, a businessman. She becomes a lover, a mother, a practitioner of her art. Life becomes multifarious, and the pressure to not let the disparate threads of a chaotic life unravel can cause strain on any relationship. With his new album Minnesota, Mason Jennings crafts a collage of love trying to survive the transition into being a grown-up in a complex world.

“Love is the most important thing to me, my relationship with my wife and kids,” Mason says, adding “And music has always been as important as breathing to me. I have come to realize that to have it all, I have to take the long view when it comes to integrating all these parts of my life.” Increasingly, a sense of place and community has become important to him as well. “The album is called Minnesota because it’s a metaphor for an ever-changing landscape. More than any place I’ve ever been, things change so much here, even month-to-month. But even as things change, Minnesota is where my home is, where my center is.” His profession often takes him away from that center. Being on the road and finding the personal space to create while at home has caused him to examine how he balances his loves. He generally writes from an intensely personal point of view, but Minnesota represents a step toward the light after the darkness of Blood of Man, his last album.

A case in point is the first song on the album, “Bitter Heart,” which manages to be simultaneously plaintive and hopeful. The protagonist recognizes the breach of faith and the sense of estrangement in the relationship, but sings tenderly of rapprochement. To Mason, the central line in this song and a central point to the album is “Our world is filled with only what we see/Can we see love now.” Mason says, “I have come to the understanding that the way that we feel inside is the most important thing, and that we have a say in that.”

Mason often encounters couples after his shows who tell him his music played a major role when they were falling in love. “Raindrops On The Kitchen Floor” is an unadulterated love song, with that love being so visceral that it can seemingly transcend the possible (“How am I gonna live forever/Promise me you will/Call it off, the age of reason/There’s no more time to kill”). “I guess this is music to stay in love to,” he jokes.

But this collage is far from monochromatic. “Clutch” looks back wistfully at a love before the demands of adulthood came knocking. At the end of the song, Mason sings that “Maybe we could work it out, we could live in a dream, live in a dream,” as though he knows it’s too late to re-enter the honeymoon phase of the relationship. The song ends in a dream-like instrumental break that leads directly into “Witches’ Dream,” a fabulist romp that juxtaposes raw lust with fairy tale imagery. He stays in this dream state with “Rudy,” an allegory in which a good man overcomes the forces of darkness, while “Wake Up” addresses the need to put self-inflicted darkness behind one as well.

Musically, Mason paints from a more varied palette than ever. For instance, piano is featured more prominently than any of his previous albums. “The piano seemed to fit the emotional core of the album,” he explains. “I felt that it was important to begin and end the album with piano.” Mason played almost all of the instruments on the album, the one exception being “Well Of Love,” a Perez Prado-esque number that features his friends in The Living Room, the side project of Jack Johnson drummer/percussionist Adam Topol. Friend Jason Schwartzman adds additional piano and background vocals on “Raindrops.”

Minnesota finds Mason Jennings more at home than ever: More at home in his adopted state and more at home with the integration of the self that is required to live an artistic life while enjoying the community of his friends and loved ones.

Born on the banks of the Mississippi river, Lee’s family later moved to Minneapolis. Following the death of his father in a motorcycle accident when he was 12, Frankie immersed himself in the city’s music scene, appearing onstage with local heroes Slim Dunlap (The Replacements) and Curtiss A at the impressionable age of 14. After inheriting records and instruments from his father’s collection, Lee was – as he sees it – “taught to play guitar by a ghost”. He continues, “I was raised on stage. These guys would bring me into the clubs, sit me behind the soundboard and give me all the coca cola I could drink until they’d call me up for a song or two at the end of the night.”

At the age of 20 Lee dropped out of college, re-invested his soccer scholarship funds in a Volvo Station wagon and embarked on a life-long love affair with America’s open roads. Lee’s first stop was Nashville, where he met Merle Haggard on the same day he drove into town. Lee then moved on to Austin, TX where he spent 6 years working for Townes Van Zandt’s son JT building cabinets. The two became good friends and Lee played his first show at a night hosted by JT. “Austin was a Mecca for me. The scene at the time was bursting wide open with everything from Western swing cover bands to Roky Erikson’s psychedelic garage rock. I was out almost every night for 6 years. There was never an excuse to stay in.”

Soon after he turned 22, Lee was diagnosed with narcolepsy, and was prescribed methamphetamines to counteract its effects. Over the next two years Lee struggled to find a midpoint between sleepwalking and speeding, and developed a serious drug habit in the process he has since kicked. “I ran out of pills for the last time, went to bed for a week, and I haven’t really woken up since,” he laughs. Returning to his nomadic lifestyle, Lee spent a year living in a farm truck and on couches in Los Angeles. Eventually, he was taken in by friend and famed engineer Patrick McCarthy (U2, REM, Madonna). The move proved pivotal in Lee’s songwriting career as McCarthy taught him how to listen and record the music he was hearing in his head.

In 2010 Lee moved back from California to Minnesota to be closer to his family. In a series of diners and motels during the long drive home he penned the songs which were later released on his DIY ‘Middle West’ EP. Lee has spent the last 3 years working on a hog farm in rural Minnesota and developing songs for his debut album. Many of these songs reflect his change in focus from the guitar to the piano, a move necessitated by a farming accident that crushed of the three fingers on his left hand. Of his return to the landscape that is the backdrop of so many of his songs, Lee says, “I’d been gone 10 years. I decided when I got back home, to really go back home, back to the land and the people who shaped me. The people I come from are North Dakota wheat farmers. Hardworking, soft-spoken, Scandinavians who moved to the middle of nowhere with nothing, and of that place made everything they needed. There’s a movement now to get back to that way of living, and if we’re gonna last a while then I think that’s the only way we’re gonna make it.”

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