Jon Reid (the artist formerly known as Jar-e, and recently relocated to New York) quietly released his latest album, Praise of Nowhere back in April. It kind of sounds like April, like that period after a long winter when the air suddenly warms and the world returns to color and there’s a sense of promise around every corner. At the same time, the seven tracks play like a spring of the soul, which could occur in any season (though, prior to releasing Praise, Reid did note that he recorded it in his apartment over the winter).
Lead song, “I’m Afraid of the World” is so stripped and lithe, so delicately flitting that its emotional blow is hardly felt until too late. And still. The cajoling rhythm, the simple guitar part and Reid’s vocal (harmonizing with himself) is both warm and airy. When the piano comes in, the whole mood shifts from beachy to cozy. It’s a song that begs to be danced to, to be embraced now and understood later.
The whole album is a spiraling in, a nimble dance around complex themes. “The Heart of Things” is a trick of light. It builds from its base of jazz strumming, arching upward on the cool jogs and crescendos of Reid’s vocal. His singing is rhythmic, too, effortlessly hitting half-notes and scat runs.
The album’s title comes from a line in “Walking.” “I’ll take it all on my two shoulders / I’ll bear the weight but why I don’t know / I’ll take it all in praise of nowhere / I’ll take it home when I am done,” he sings. It’s a quiet song, but handsomely rewards the careful listener. The song is built on a structure perhaps loosely inspired by “Walkin’ Blues,” with its thumbed strum, but re-envisioned as something softer. The swagger morphs into an amble, the snarl evolves into self-awareness.
“You Laughed At Me, We Laughed At You” opens with a progression of vocals sung like plucked strings (paired with actual plucked strings). Here, Reid does a lot of experimental vocal work, pushing his falsetto, singing higher but also softer. The effect is haunting — gossamer and floating, yet touching just briefly on rounded and sorrowful tones.
But any sadness is either quickly erased by or enhances the next track, “Hanging Stars.” Tambourine-driven, the song canters through a misty forest, parts folklorics and parts Crosby Stills and Nash circa “Guinnevere” (so, folkloric). It’s just over two minutes long, but an absolute standout.
“In My Pocket” is the poppiest offering on the album. The piano keeps a beat and churns drama from its thrumming base while Reid’s voice soars and sinks easily, an aerialist above the the stage lights. “Reading Sons and Lovers / Waiting to see if you were going to call,” he sings. Only the sparest skeleton of a narrative is revealed here, but the emotional impact is fully felt — such is Reid’s skill at paring instrumentation and words. And, while the musician has always been remarkably talented, this album shows how he’s refined and honed his approach. Praise cuts close to the bone, but it’s a cut made with a steady hand. No excess is left, only the bare truth, the exposed nerve.
Final track, “The Cliff” returns to the folkloric feel of “Hanging Stars.” It’s darker, eerier, more deeply poignant. The song only has six lines, but each one burns as it falls. The rich sonic tapestry, all plush nocturne and shimmery washes of falsetto over a meditative strings part, belies its utter sparseness. With a minimalist palette, Reid paints us an entire interior world, remote and intimate and exquisite.