Jar-e is known for writing infectious, soulful pop songs that bring crowds to their feet and inspire unadulterated dance parties. But the Asheville-based singer and multi-instrumentalist is leaving behind the Latin influence and carefree lyricism of his previous effort, Chicas Malas, to explore the darker side of his art.
Blood of the Summer is still undeniably catchy, but it’s a toned-down approach to Jar-e’s big-band sound that trades relentlessly up-tempo party tracks for lush, timeless soul ballads that could have been recorded in any of the past five decades. Bouncy pop songs like “One by One” and “Plot” provide something to dance to, but they’re now the exception rather than the rule.
There are also hints of rock throughout the album (Jar-e acknowledges a surprising penchant for the “beard rock” of artists like Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes), but the heart of this collection is Motown soul, plain and simple. The punchy horns, silky-smooth vocals and toe-tapping groove of “Plot,” “Cuckcold” and “So Inclined” are Jar-e at his all-time best, and one can’t help but think the man was born to breathe new life into the genre.
Blood of the Summer was recorded at Echo Mountain with producer Danny Kadar (My Morning Jacket, the Avett Brothers, Band of Horses), and Jar-e says they made the decision early on to record to tape in order to enhance the warm, classic feel of the songs. Often, he admits, having the technology to perfect every note can sterilize a recording, and the pair were careful to avoid giving in to that temptation. After all, he points out, the album’s appeal lies largely in the emotion it conveys.
“A lot of times when you’re in a fancy studio and you have all the equipment and the potential to make things sound really nice and clean, you squeeze a lot of the life out of it by re-editing things too much. Danny was really good with getting the best performance but then letting some of the humanity stay in there, which I felt was a key.”
Musically, Blood of the Summer retains the optimism typical of Jar-e’s past endeavors, but lyrically it takes a much darker turn into bleak explorations of failed relationships and brutal self-examination that the singer acknowledges was inspired by real-life turmoil in his own life, including the divorce of two close friends. The albums title, he says, reflects that underlying theme.
“I think that the blood is the life force, but you also probably shouldn’t see blood. It’s this internal kind of thing that keeps us moving, but when it spills, when its brought out of the body, there’s some kind of sacrifice or some kind of mishap. So the blood of the summer is just the idea of that vibrant carefree kind of summer vibe, but also going back to the consequences and mistakes that are made. There’s definitely some ambiguity to whether it’s a completely positive thing. There’s that danger and melancholy as well as the power and vibrancy of the whole thing.”
The redemptive side of this effort, it would seem, lies in the music, not the lyrics.
“There’s definitely some rays of sunshine and hope that flicker through the record,” he says, “but I’ve always loved the vibe where you can have really dark emotions but then the music . . . I feel like a lot of the hope and the beauty comes through the music of the record and that juxtaposition. I know Beck or Radiohead or Randy Newman, their lyrics are pretty damn dark, but the music can have this transcendental feel as well.”
Having established a reputation for his engaging performance style, Jar-e notes that the shift towards darker subject matter has been tricky to incorporate into the live show. Audiences come with certain expectations (namely, to dance like there’s no tomorrow) and much of the new material doesn’t lend itself to such carefree indulgence. So far, the band is still trying to figure out how it will all play out.
“I’m really happy the way this band gets people dancing; all of our shows usually turn into a big dance party. But it’s been really interesting with the heavier material from this record, kind of interspersing that and finding out how the live show is going to evolve with this more thoughtful, more hardcore material.
In the end, he says, whether the songs are about “sex and crazy fun women” or the darker parts of “being a man and the ins and outs of that,” it’s all part of the human experience, and we must embrace both sides.
“I feel like out of this new creative thing of playing the live shows and having these new songs,” says Jar-e, “it’s going to give birth to even more new songs that explore this kind of middle ground between, ‘Hey it’s a fun world-party and there’s a bunch of beautiful girls dancing,’ to, ‘Wow, life’s f—king hard. Let’s f—king rock out and be a little sad too.”
— Dane Smith can be reached at email@example.com.
who: Jar-e, with the Secret B-Sides
what: CD-release show
where: Lexington Avenue Brewery (The LAB)
when: Saturday, Nov. 6 (8 p.m. $8. jar-e.com)