Featured Music: Wednesday, December 21, 2005
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Local singer-songwriter Jason Eady’s ‘From Underneath the Old,’ a raw countrified joint that’s anything but Nashville-style, may be one of the year’s best in any genre.
Jason Eady
Tonight (Wed) and with Kurt South on Sat, Dec 31 (New Year’s Eve), at the White Elephant Saloon, 106 E Exchange Av, FW. 817-624-9712.
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Duke of Earle

The flame sparked by a legendary Texas Music rabble-rouser culminates in a powerful disc from local upstart Jason Eady.

By JIMMY FOWLER

Fort Worth-based singer-songwriter Jason Eady rediscovered his passion for Americana music — that hard-to-define but scrumptious stew of country, folk, blues, and Southern rock — in an unlikely place: London.

He was stationed there as an Arabic linguist for the Air Force in 1998 when a guy he worked with invited him to a Steve Earle concert. Eady, who was born and raised in Jackson, Miss., had grown up listening to Willie and Waylon and Merle on the radio. He’d performed a few famous shit-kicker tunes while playing in cover bands as a teen-ager and had even written a batch himself. But he’d never heard — or heard of — Earle. The co-worker, it turned out, was something of a fanatic for the rumbling, unpolished music of that Texas native, rehab veteran, and lefty rabble-rouser. Eady was given an assignment: His friend handed him a small bag full of Earle c.d.’s a couple of weeks before the show and told the newbie that to appreciate the concert, he had to immerse himself in the musician’s sometimes-discomfiting artistry. Eady did, and it changed his outlook on what Americana could accomplish.

“It was the complete lack of formula [in his songs] that knocked me out,” the 30-year-old singer-songwriter said. “Some songs wouldn’t have a chorus. Other songs, you didn’t know where they were going after they started. He managed to be poetic even though he was technically very rough.”

After investigating and being equally awed by Earle’s late mentor and comrade-in-addiction Townes Van Zandt, Eady picked up his acoustic guitar again with the sensation that walls had been knocked down: He realized he had a fresh creative horizon to aim toward. Seven years later, the results can be savored in Eady’s remarkable debut c.d., From Underneath the Old.

Down here in Texas, we see a seemingly endless flow of indie releases by aspirants who want to capture some of the dusty, reflected glory of the rough-hewn folk-country legends who’ve come before. Those efforts tend to blur together. From Underneath the Old, produced by Walt Wilkins and Tim Lorsch and recorded in Nashville with seasoned session players, is one of best c.d.’s of this past year in any genre. It takes a couple of spins before you can really appreciate Eady’s mellow, unobtrusive voice — capable of sliding into a soulful whine without warning — and his melancholic but precisely observed lyrics become hard to shake. (In the album’s opener, “Steven and Melissa,” Eady has this to say about kicking booze: “The desert looks like water when you’re trying to get clean.”) The more hushed and sparsely arranged his tunes are, the more raw power they seem to produce.

Although there was no music scene per se in his hometown, Eady calls it “a place where a lot of styles cross through but don’t stay.” And don’t mingle much either, apparently. Unlike in his adopted Texas, he said, Mississippi was a place where people didn’t know how to take it when artists mixed, say, bluegrass with rock ’n’ roll and threw in a little gospel for kicks. Folks with bigger ambitions traveled to New Orleans or Memphis or, in Eady’s case, Nashville to get noticed as opening acts in small clubs.

About 10 years ago, Eady was a good-looking 19-year-old kid with precocious if unschooled songwriting chops and “a voice that everyone said sounded older than I was,” so you better believe he got noticed in the major label signing frenzy triggered by the explosive successes of Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson. He was by no means allergic to the possibilities of fame and wealth, but the meetings he had with producers, club owners, and A&R people usually came back around to how he’d look in a cowboy hat. Also, most of the Nashville folk preferred that he sing the work of other songwriters. In Music City, he got turned on to the musician Kevin Welch, whom he said “caused even more friction between the [Nashville sound] I was hearing on the radio and what I wanted to be.”

Eady doesn’t claim he ever got close to being signed, but he was too impatient to hang around for any serious offers to come along. In a decision he called “the most impulsive thing I’ve ever done,” he enlisted in the Air Force, got sent to England for a three-year stint, and was revivified by his exposure to Steve Earle.

Back in the civilian world, he continued music-making but, with a wife and child to support, got a day job in the information technology field. His company relocated the family to Fort Worth in 2002, and Eady was keenly aware of the grand tradition of iconoclastic musicianship celebrated here. Pretty soon, his music started generating some attention — not from big shot Nashville executives but from music-loving audiences at joints like the White Elephant Saloon and Fred’s Texas Café. Eady believes he’s made leaps as a songwriter in just the past couple of years — From Underneath the Old proves that he’s not just bragging.

“I make a point not to write love songs,” he said. “I don’t know that there’s anything left to be said on the subject. But I listen to a lot of music across the board and try to figure out how the songwriters said what they wanted to say. This may sound strange [from a country-folk guy], but some of the rappers like Eminem, Kanye West, and Dr. Dre do amazing stuff lyrically. They know how to use meter and alliteration and serious poetic devices.”

With a new album to promote, Eady and his band are expanding their turf to all of Texas and into Oklahoma, as his domestic schedule permits. He recently performed at the famed Gruene Hall in Central Texas, which he says is a career high. While he’s eagerly soaking up that inspirational Texas atmosphere of individuality, he recognizes that there are also constraints that come from the pride and provincialism of this particular regional scene.

“Five years from now, I’d rather have moderate success on a national level than be a big star [on the Texas country circuit],” he said. “I’d like to play everywhere — here and in California and New York and as many places as will have me. Part of what’s great about Texas is letting you be what you want to be, so why not take advantage of it?”


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