The latest release from Jamie Kent, one of Nashville’s rising stars, is a ten song collection entitled All-American Mutt. This is the fullest realization of Jamie Kent’s songwriting talents yet thanks to its penchant for attentive word play never shooting over its intended audience’s head, sharply observed characters, and attention to making the relationship between music and lyric as seamless as possible. The arrangements and backing performances are astonishingly varied. Grammy nominated producer Dave Brainard has imposed a wonderful sonic framework for Kent’s songwriting. There’s harmonica, mandolin, snippets of slide guitar, and even bits of banjo strewn through the songs in all of the right places and they enrich the album’s very modern sound with an appealing touch of the traditional.
He starts things off in just the right way with the album’s title song. It’s a jovial description of the melting pot of modern American life and stresses Kent’s commonality with that experience. His singing is quite relaxed and the vocal benefits immensely from a very natural sounding melody. The song is very direct, but it has some impressive lyrics that Kent handles with great confidence. One of the album’s best ballads comes with the song “Look Up”. It certainly isn’t as playful as the opener, but the suggestion of the personal conjured by his deeply emotive vocal will move many from the first few lines on. Kent brings listeners back to his strongest commercial instincts with the track “Last Call” and it’s to his credit as a songwriter and performer that he can pull off these sort of tracks without ever coming off as crass or predictable. One key to this working is that, despite the familiarity or predictability of the lyrics, Kent and his collaborators still show great care in creating an entertaining and substantive arrangement.
“Home Again” is a deeply affecting song performed from the point of view of a soldier returning home from war and uneasy about the transition. Much of its emotional power comes from his careful, reflective phrasing and the lightly throbbing country swing. There’s a comfortable woozy charm surrounding the song “Be Your Man” and much of it comes from Kent’s singing. The following song “Safe” draws a strong contrast with the preceding song and probably features Kent at his most sensitive and elegant. The lyrical content is equally elegant and Kent achieves much by using exactly the right words at the right time and not wasting a single syllable. “Diamond” has a beautifully effortless uplift to the music that picks listeners up immediately All-American Mutt takes a late surprisingly raucous musical turn with the paean to a woman “Sheila”. To be sure, Kent’s version of raucousness is keeping in theme with the stylishness pervading the entire album.
There’s beautiful duets here, honky tonk songs, ballads, and brazenly commercial numbers that don’t sacrifice a note of their individuality to get over with audience. Jamie Kent’s ascent in the music scene continues unchecked and, if anything, his latest studio album All-American Mutt is strong enough to accelerate his rise.