Chris Jamison walks a fine line on Into Surrender. On "A Heart Unbroken," the opening track, he steps onto the wrong side of this line. The "oooh"s and "yeah-a-yeah"s and breezy bounce of the song are just too close to the easy-as-pie accessibility of "nice guy" songwriters like David Gray and John Mayer. "Hair of the Dog" follows in a similar direction and, at this point, one might begin to lose hope.
But then "Pebbles of the Sea" starts up with soft picking and an energetic fiddle. The more reserved orchestration provides a better accompaniment for Jamison’s silky voice, and at times the tune even recalls the light and quick demeanor of Paul Simon’s Graceland.
You can call me Chris: Local Jamison channels Paul Simon’s Graceland on cinematic new album, Into Surrender.
At this point, Into Surrender steps back in the right direction and for the rest of the album it (for the most part) stays on that path.
"Empty Dreamers" lifts off with film score strings before opening up into an acoustic ballad that glides along at just the right pace for its wistful, gloomy outlook. On "Good Luck, Bad Luck," twanging slide guitars take over and, keeping with the country feel, Jamison adopts a subtle drawl that complements the song’s pondering of fortune and fate.
While roughly half of the songs float on Jamison’s poetics, he hits his stride with grounded, politically charged numbers. "Holding Illusions" gets both your head bobbing and your blood boiling with its reminder of the deception that our country has dealt with over the past few years. The song’s sharp organ and squealing trumpet lift things to a height that is far from Into Surrender‘s dull beginning.
Jamison’s socially critical tone surfaces again in the album’s title track (which again hints at Paul Simon) and "What Freedom Means," a tune that proves Jamison can go the bare bones folk route. The latter combines Jamison’s Southwestern and Appalachian roots (he was born in Texas and raised in the Blue Ridge) into a Dylan-style protest. The result is a poignant call "to anyone who wants to change what freedom means" and a nice finish for Into Surrender.
Though the album gradually surrenders to its stronger elements, Jamison does stumble a couple of times along the way. The reggae-ish "Savage Nation" is the one instance where his political slant falls flat, and "Heaven’s Here" wanders without getting anywhere, both lyrically and musically.
Missteps aside, Chris Jamison has produced a graceful work. Thanks to his talented voice, production from Micah Berry and a mastering session at the legendary Abbey Road Studios, when Into Surrender shines, it really shines.