Jason Myles Goss Hits a High Note with Radio Dial

Album Reviews, Features — By on June 7, 2012 10:20 am

In 2003, Jason Myles Goss released his debut album, Long Way Down, a sort of
budding-college-freshman ode to the amazement of puppy love, or an amateur Dave
Matthews Band meets Jason Miraz. Now, nine years later, you have to listen pretty close
to Radio Dial to know it’s the same singer. Goss’ vocals—and songs—have emigrated
from glossy pop/soul/R&B to straight-and-narrow “roots/pop” (Goss’ own description).
The transformation is fitting: Goss studied English in school, and it’s at once apparent
that the lyrically pregnant album is born from a natural storyteller. Indeed, the piece he
wrote about his inspiration for the song “Hospital Shirt” was almost better than the song
itself—which is saying a lot. Goss presents himself as one who has successfully aligned
his voice with one of today’s more popular musical movements. However it isn’t long
before it hits you: something is missing from this album.

Lucky for us, Goss brought in a lot of the same great personnel from his 2009
release A Plea for Dreamland, many of whom work closely with Josh Ritter. They bring
with them the same professional grit from Dreamland, backing up Goss on songs about
boxers and warriors, struggle and self-determination—all on two-inch tape. The album is
clean and clear: recorded at Vanity Sound in Brooklyn, Radio Dial was engineered by
Myles Turney and produced entirely by Goss. This might be the root of the album’s
discord.

There’s a reason for reaching out to professional producers when recording an
original album: they have some distance from the material, and they immediately see
what it needs. First of all, a pro producer might help knock out some small problems
(Goss’ painstaking lyrical articulation can strike you as equally aggravating or endearing,
depending on your mood), including the album’s intent. Upon first listen, there’s
potential for frustration at not being able to pin this guy down. It’s at once
unquestionably pop and unquestionably folk. Maybe he’s trying too hard for a big sell, or
maybe he’s relying to heavily on formula. His vocals sound forced on “Heavy,” a kind of
surf-and-turf rockabilly number that really wants to be sung by Mark Knopfler; “Red
Letter Man” is catchy in a Maroon 5 kind of way; there’s a cutesy tune about a croissant,
and much of the rest fits in nicely somewhere between Tom Petty and Ben Gabbard, with
a dash of David Gray. “Roots/Pop” is indeed as conflicted as it sounds.

Soon it’s obvious (again, any outside producer would have argued this from the
start) that what this album is really begging for is vocal harmonies. Goss has never used
them, but for such meaningful, vocally driven songs, they’re mandatory. That simple
ingredient would do wonders, because he’s really a fantastic singer. No, he’s not trying
too hard—catch just one of his interviews or live performances and you’ll see that
immediately. He’s honest, artistic; his restlessness is simply ambition. The guy can’t sit
still, so he keeps hopping back and forth from pop to folk. But is there something else?
You keep trying to put your finger on it, listening closer and closer, until the album ends
and you open your eyes, ears ringing, deciding you need to hear it again from the top. It
turns out (and this is what really counts) that Goss is a great songsmith. Genre be
damned, the album is solid: nearly every single song is a winner, although he might not
fit comfortably behind the wheel of a few of them. We should pay attention, because
when he nails it, it’s gonna make some noise.

Radio Dial will be released on June 17th, 2012

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