Jason Anderson is one of the most interesting singer-songwriters working today. He is both prolific (see his song-a-day project) and endlessly creative. His forte is arena rock straight from the E Street school, but he's not afraid to delve into other genres as it suits his muse.
The driving goal of The Hopeful and the Unafraid was to recapture the live sound of the concerts Jason Anderson has been performing practically nonstop over the last few years. It was recorded in Chicago at Soma Studio over a day and a half in January 2006 (except for "Wanting and Regret," a 2004 recording from the Massachusetts sessions that eventually produced On the Street) — and it does have a rawer sound than his previous two albums from K Records.
Anderson is a master of the slow build leading up to an emotional blowout, and this is shown to great effect on "El Paso" (which, at nearly eight minutes, sounds like the live version of a studio track — quite an accomplishment since it is the studio version) and the next track, "July 4, 2004" (which musically channels Paul Westerberg).
When Anderson sings "I love this part," it reminds me that I love that part, too: when he repeats a refrain and gets so caught up in his own effort (as he also does in "Hold On" from New England) you would think he was listening to a favorite tune by someone else. It's a snapshot of a moment and adds to the immediacy Anderson is trying to achieve.
The Hopeful and the Unafraid also contains two definite power-pop masterpieces that get the blood pumping. "This Will Never Be Our Town" has an infectious hook and effectively carries over the pedal steel from "Wanting and Regret." And "The Hopeful and the Unafraid" has lyrics that could be self-reflective: "We couldn't get it out of our heads till the morning / That song that we just kept on singing." I was singing right along with him by the end — and it wouldn't leave my head the next day, either.
By the time the banjo came out on "Ohio" — with an opening that begs to be sung along with — I was ready to follow Anderson in whatever musical direction he wanted to go. "Watch Your Step" merely cements that. Anderson has a fascinating ability to write songs that remind me of other songs I like, instantly making a song I've never heard before sound like a familiar old favorite that I can't wait to hear again. And he has certainly found his perfect vocal counterpart in backup singer Juliet. She enhances the lyrical melody without ever taking away from his lead.
Though The Hopeful and the Unafraid is only available as an LP, a free CD of the album comes with every purchase (along with information about a different free mp3 album), so you really get three albums for the price of one. While this may not musically be Anderson's best album, it is probably his most instantly accessible, and should definitely be a first purchase for anyone who has seen him live.