Anybody who knows Jantzen knows that couldnt be further from the reality, and Feathers, his first effort as Riley Jantzen and the Spirits, should dispel his scary-guy image for those who dont. Its a wonderfully intimate album lyrically, and musically enriched by his absurd skill as a player.
Hes credited as playing all the instruments, and his handling of the standards (piano, electric and acoustic guitar, and synthesizer) both invites you in close and dazzles with his dexterity. Subtle changes in volume of his guitar help to imagine him rocking back and forth inside some little shack of a studio somewhere that suddenly doesnt seem so far away.
Hes really set himself apart as a singular figure in the Oklahoma music scene, capable of playing backup for anybody, as well as writing his own high-caliber material. This ability, coupled with his rough-hewn domestic songwriting themes (and even his voice at times) suggests Conor Oberst, once of Bright Eyes fame. Like Oberst, Jantzens definitely got the credibility and songwriting chops to mount a successful solo project. And he does.
Sunday Morning is the centerpiece here, a tough, hopeful, five-minute hand-washing of his conflict with religion. My familys got religion / But Ive got silence and a pen, he says, completely un-guilty of how he spends his time while others go to church. It sounds like his life has slowed down considerably (The rush destroys everything / And everyones always rushin around), and for the better. Youd better be holding on to something when the song spikes in the middle and then stomps its way to an emotional finish. Its a scary-good ride.
Jantzen also tackles populist themes when he stretches into folk. Work Week is a Woody Guthrie nod with simple, pointed criticisms like, Sad old money machine runs very inefficiently and truisms: Dont let the past make your decisions / Tradition dont make it right. Its a poignant, careful update on one of the oldest, truest forms of music.
Feathers mostly hangs out in Jantzens traditional alt-country/folk zone, although tuned a little softer by the presence of hovering, gentle synthesizers. Its a gem of a locally made record, the kind of music that really ought to show up in Oklahoma more often, but sadly doesnt.