By Brian Haagsman

Daily Arts Writer

Combined, there are approximately six million albums released annually that can be described as roots-rock, alt-country or a Broken Social Scene side project. Fitting into all of these categories, it’s got to be difficult for Jason Collett to resist the usual conventions that come with each: Too little deviation from time-tested song structures. Too much banjo. Too many guest spots to retain any sense of a solo album. On Here’s To Being Here, Collett’s fourth solo disc, he struggles between the choices of easing into simple, classic arrangements or into less familiar territory.

Trimming the ensemble from 2005’s Idols of Exile, Collett isn’t able to depend on the talent and cred that came with the inclusion of fellow Broken Social Scene members like Emily Haines, Leslie Feist and Brendan Canning. Instead, Collett unfortunately opts for the limited set-up of guitar, bass and drums. The touches of Idols of Exile that elevated the otherwise lackluster aspects of Collett’s rock are still here, like the perpetually growing crowd of voices and strings on “We All Lose One Another” and the bluesy guitar solo amidst the dirge of horns on “Parry Sound.” In comparison, Here’s To Being Here often sounds thin and empty.

But these moments aren’t completely abandoned. With tones reminiscent of fellow Toronto-born rocker Neil Young, Collett expands his use of fuzzed-out, lazily played guitar previously only hinted at on Idols of Exile’s “Tinsel and Sawdust.” On the piano-rock of “Henry’s Song,” the harsh strikes of one guitar interlock with another’s solo of equal parts feedback, with Collett stumbling around the fretboard. This close-enough approach to guitar even works beneath the mellow sound of “Through the Night These Days,” with the sustained, vibrato-heavy notes distracting from the less-remarkable aspects.

Fortunately, not every single drop of excitement from songs like “I’ll Bring The Sun,” off Idols of Exile, is gone. “Out of Time” doesn’t promise much from the start – it begins with the same kind of hollow three-chord sound, but soon, handclaps and buzzing guitar noise join the falsetto “whoo whoo whoos.” Those are accompanied by a dance beat, leading into dueling organs and piano. In reality, the song is by no means going to be the party hit of ’08, but in the context of the album, falsetto cooing sounds close to daring and a cause for celebration. Collett doesn’t keep this level of enthusiasm, though, as the latter half of the album turns the volume down and the heartbreak up.

The bounce of the first half of Here’s To Being Here becomes a meandering mess on tracks like “Waiting For The World.” Sure, it’s a nice way for the album to fade out, but it isn’t anything more than an unexceptional acoustic guitar campfire ballad. Even on “Somehow,” Collett’s down-on-his-luck alt-country plea, where a gang of vocal “oos” supports Collett’s shaky voice and slide guitar, there is the question four minutes in of where the song’s going. The answer? Sadly, nowhere surprising or interesting.

Here’s To Being Here is a testament to Collett’s love of many classic aspects of rock’n’roll and country, and it’s rewarding when he is able to incorporate them in novel ways. But when he can’t, all we’re left with is this enjoyable, but forgettable, dad-rock.

Jason Collett

Rating: 2 and a half out of 5 stars

Here’s to Being Here

Arts and Crafts

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