Combo Concert/Album Review – Jason Myles Goss
Some music is just made to be played in an intimate coffeehouse atmosphere.
That was the case last Friday when I traveled out to Easton, Maryland to see Jason Myles Goss perform at the NightCat, a charming little bohemian cafe with a performance room. I wasn’t familiar with Jason’s music before the show, but I was working on a tip from my brother who had seen him play numerous times back up in New England and who assured me that it would be a good time. He was right.
Originally from Massachusetts, Goss now calls Brooklyn, New York his home. His music falls squarely within the folk singer-songwriter genre, but he is far from being just another dime-a-dozen strummer. This was an assured, confident performance that he hit out of the park and gained at least one new fan in the process.
I’ll get to the details of Goss’ performance soon, but let me start by talking just a bit about the headliner of the night’s bill – Sharon Little. Little is a former jazz singer who made the transition to soulful pop-inflected songwriting and got her big break when she was selected to open for Robert Plant and Alison Krauss on a national tour. You can definitely pick out the jazz influences in her clear yet sweetly smokey voice. With sly smiles and quick asides between songs, she commanded the stage like a pro, and her sultry gestures were completely in-line with the music. She’s clearly got the goods, but her set took a slight misstep when she invited three backup singers on stage to help her out for a handful of songs. I understand that it added variety to a set that would otherwise have been just Little and her accompanying guitarist, but these backup singers were more often than not pretty flat and it was more than a bit distracting. An unfortunate turn, but not enough to spoil what was a pleasant performance.
Of course, I had really made the trip to see the opener. And it’s a shame that Goss was relegated to a shorter set because he was spot-on and left more than a few audience members wanting more. Goss’s style can be described as a confluence of influences ranging from Ray LaMontagne to Jakob Dylan to John Mayer, but if I had to guess, I’d say his biggest influence has been Josh Ritter. Like Ritter, Goss sings hyper-literary tunes with subjects spanning the spectrum from wistful love songs set on Coney Island to a stripper in Mississippi to a cancer patient in the hospital to Chester Copperpot. And yes, that is the Chester Copperpot of The Goonies fame. I spoke with Goss for a few minutes after the show and he told me that he was an English major in college which perfectly explains his deft lyricism.
Goss’ voice is also similar to Ritter’s in that it carries a certain resonance that can wield both emotional heft and simpler levity. He played the song “Coffee and Wine” like a good-natured combination of Demetri Martin and Stephen Lynch while “January” hit like a remorseful hymn. The undulating themes and tones of each song kept the audience sharply tuned in by avoiding the trap of falling into any one emotional rut.
After the show he told me that he loves small, intimate gigs like these where he can tell that everyone in the audience is invested in his performance. And as an audience member it was a special treat to see a performer so thoroughly focused on giving it all of his effort. So naturally, given such a pleasant first impression, I purchased Goss’ latest album, A Plea for Dreamland. It’s got quite a few of the songs he played live but with a full backing band (many of the musicians have worked with Ritter). It’s impressive to see how he deconstructed some of these tracks in order to play them with only his guitar and his voice. Still, the album itself is completely vocally driven and it can stand toe to toe with most any other folk singer out there.
A lot of these songs, like the title track and “There’s a Light Up Ahead,” paint such vivid pictures that you can completely see yourself looking out at the waves crashing against the shores of Coney Island at four in the morning or getting tossed around in the stormy weather working on a boat off the coast of Maine. And along with the visuals come a healthy dose of emotions. The primary viewpoint would seem to be a world-weary guy with the faintest sliver of hope that redemption lies just beyond the horizon. If there is any justice in this business, Jason Myles Goss will get his big break soon.
(He’s got some upcoming shows in the Northeast. If you can, I would strongly suggest you check him out.)