Before setting to work on his latest album, Mason Jennings was looking for a new approach to writing. At the advice of a friend, the Minnesota-based singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist holed up in the back room of his wood-nestled cabin studio with just a guitar, electric piano, bookshelf, notebook, tape recorder, and one 90-minute cassette—then wrote all winter long. Emerging with the notebook and tape full of about 30 new songs, Jennings decided to skip his standard approach of self-recording and called on producer Bo Ramsey (Greg Brown, The Pines, Iris DeMent), as well as a wish-list-plucked lineup of guest musicians that includes DeMent and Neil Young drummer Chad Cromwell. The result of those "dream collaborations" and his own hard-won inspiration, 'Always Been' proves to be Jennings's most radiant and refined effort of his career.

When it came time to record, Jennings turned the reigns over to Ramsey in order to give full attention to delivering a stellar performance on vocals and guitar. "Working with Bo really elevated my singing and playing," says Jennings. "He's very quiet, but he's got this heavy presence, and it was important for me to do a good job because I respect him so much." After recording, which included such magic moments as Jennings teaching DeMent to play the ukulele, the songs were handed over for mixing to Jerry Boys (another of Jennings's dream collaborators and the sonic master behind Buena Vista Social Club).

With the songwriting and recording of 'Always Been' so wholly charmed, Jennings says his main ambition is for the album to uplift its listeners. "Music's always been very transformative for me. I remember hearing 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' as a kid and having it hit me in a really deep way," he says. Noting that the medicinal quality of DeMent's albums was a major influence on the mood of 'Always Been,' Jennings adds that he ultimately aims to create music with its own healing effect. "I started making music because music saved my life when I was little—it was something I could go to and always have a feeling of connection, even when times were hard," he says. "Above all else, I want to make sure I always remember that trying to give other people that sort of feeling is the major purpose behind what I'm doing."

Rebecca Pidgeon

She's been recording albums for more than 20 years, but Rebecca Pidgeon had a creative breakthrough as she began working on the music for "Slingshot," her compelling sixth solo effort.

The deeply melodic "Slingshot" marks the third time Pidgeon and Grammy-winning producer Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell, Madeleine Peyroux, Herbie Hancock) have collaborated. The two made an often intentionally quiet album that compellingly beckons the listener to lean in and pay attention. "There's simplicity and air and space to it," she says. "That was a conscious decision."

In fact, Pidgeon wrote 35 songs for "Slingshot," more than she has ever written for an album before. Working primarily with Klein and David Batteau on the "kernel of the record," Pidgeon also wrote with Timothy Bracy and acclaimed singer/songwriter, Freedy Johnston including the deceptively jaunty, upbeat "I Love No One." "I loved writing with Freedy," she says. "We [both] tend to like stories about being rather bleak. It seems more interesting."

Throughout the summer and fall of 2011, Pidgeon has headlined Wine, Women & Song, a series of concerts that take place at female-run vineyards coordinated by wine company Women of the Vine. "These women are entrepreneurs and artists", she says. "The concerts with the wine tastings have been very lovely."

Pidgeon has also shared stages with such artists as Aimee Mann, Madeleine Peyroux, Jeffrey Gaines, Peter Himmelman, and Keb Mo, and joined founders Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young at the 2011 edition of Farm Aid.

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Mason Jennings with Rebecca Pidgeon

Friday, February 14 · Doors 7:30 PM at The Orpheum