Living Room

Jon Troast

Independent release, 2009

http://www.jontroast.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/18/2009

I am convinced, now -- Jon Troast is a magician.

Not that I’ve ever spotted the peripatetic Wisconsin singer-songwriter with a twirly moustache and black tails, pulling a rabbit from a hat – he’s perfectly happy to post slightly goofy homemade videos on YouTube, but I haven’t seen that one.  No, the sleight of hand accomplished by the shaggy young man-with-guitar whose fans call themselves Troasters is much more subtle.  He approaches you with an easy smile, begins to strum his acoustic guitar, and it’s only after you’ve been lulled into the relaxed, open state he’s clearly aiming for that you realize you’ve been tricked; he’s put a straw hat down on the table in front of you and pulled a song the size of a house out of it.

The backstory is important to tell first, though.  The intrepid Troast spent much of 2008 – at least when he wasn’t cranking out two full albums of new material -- hopscotching the country playing house concerts.  In spring 2009 he took the concept to the next level and booked his 100 Concerts in 100 Days tour, which took him from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin to San Diego, California to South Portland, Maine and back in just over three months.

The songs that make up Living Room were mostly composed during those travels, and recorded in the heat of a Nashville August after his return.  For this disc, Troast once again teamed with producer Mitch Dane (Jars Of Clay), who previously helped him put a shine to the songs of my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Second Story (2006), A Person And A Heart (2008) and With, To, From (2008).

The two songs here that are explicitly autobiographical – the title track and the closing “Somewhere Down The Road” – frame the album beautifully.  The former’s jaunty tone is underscored with accordion, as Troast narrates a typical day in the life of his living room tour.  The subplot involving a mutual crush with one host’s daughter feels like a cute goof until you listen again and catch the subtext – the fleeting nature of the connections Troast makes as he meets people, becomes part of their household for a few hours, and then drives away to start the cycle all over again.  It’s an odyssey rich with opportunities for a person as open to the world as Troast is, but one that’s at its core so lonely that a person almost has to have the kind of relentlessly sunny optimism Troast possesses in order to survive the experience.

The first seven songs in this set really exemplify this “search out the positive” outlook.  “One Little Corner” is about reaching the end of your rope and reeling yourself back in one step at a time.  “When Beauty Speaks” is a witty take on the varying effects of natural and human beauty on the male of the species.  And three tracks are about remembering to appreciate things -- the little things that cement a relationship (“Just Enough”), the parent who does everything for everyone (“They Call Her Mama”), and even the very moment you’re inhabiting (“Favorites”).

Ironically, it’s with “Sunshine Love” that things turn more serious.  Far from being the lightweight hearts-and-flowers song the title suggests, it’s a rather serious-minded ballad about love as sustenance, something as necessary as sunshine for one’s survival.  And it’s followed by the somber, gorgeous “What Will You Hold Onto,” in which Troast employs just guitar, cello, and guest Elizabeth Foster’s voice in harmony with his own to essay a series of life’s small calamities, finishing with the question we all face eventually: “What will you hold onto / At the end of it all?”  It’s absolutely stunning, and its very simplicity and directness is the reason why.

And then you get to the end -- “Somewhere Down The Road,” the emotional flip side of “Living Room,” in which a more wistful Troast acknowledges the bittersweet nature of the path he has chosen for the past two years of his life.  He enters new homes and meets new people every day – and then says goodbye to them, every day, not knowing whether they’ll ever meet again. 

Joy interwoven with sadness; simple songs bearing undercurrents of emotion powerful enough to knock you flat.  You’d best listen with care, because this dude is magic.

Rating: A

User Rating: A


Comments

Jason, great thoughtful review. I love Jon's music and now I have an even better understanding of the CD. I personally was so moved by Jon's 100 concerts in 100 days tour that I decided to collaborate and create a video to help tell the story. We posted on YouTube yesterday. I'd love to hear what you think.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4voUg4_SU4

Merry Christmas!

Matt Mason








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