Jason Anderson The Hopeful and the Unafraid

[K; 2008]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: anthem rock, Americana, indie rock
Others: Bruce Springsteen, Grand Champeen, Marah, Magnolia Electric Co.

Anderson has been toiling away on the indie club circuit for quite sometime, and though his fanbase is small, it’s rather eclectic for a man happy to play back-room bar anthems for an older set. Anderson keeps himself busy with Calvin Johnson and Phil Elverum, but anyone who’s watched his career progress from pop rock to roots rock will tell you not to judge Anderson by the company he keeps. So, it should come as a slight surprise that The Hopeful and the Unafraid is a direct reflection of Anderson’s current company — former members of Jason Molina’s rag-tag Magnolia Electric Co. With the addition of pedal steel and rawkus guitar leads, his earlier stabs at folk/rock hybrids have been transformed into bombastic jams that echo the likes of Springsteen and the E Street Band, capturing his enthusiastic live performances.

But this dalliance comes with a price. Anderson, while never selling out his sound, is flirting with consumerism. The Hopeful and the Unafraid isn’t a cash grab by any means, but don’t be surprised if visions of pickup trucks, cell phones, and tight jeans begin flashing through your head listen after listen. This isn’t Anderson’s fault — he hasn’t contributed to the mainstreaming of old-fashion rock ‘n’ roll. He isn’t drumming up patriotism under the guise of commercialism, but the album has to be painted with that brush. When the exiled couple are run out of town in this summer’s blockbuster movie, “This Will Never Be Our Town” could easily soundtrack the feigned looks of sorrow on the faces of the film’s leads. When the quick cuts of a Levi’s-sponsored road trip flash in and out between your favorite shows, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to hear “Ohio” as the anthem by which companies reach into your wallets.

It’s a ploy that works marvelously for advertisers, but it's damaging to The Hopeful and the Unafraid. What should be Anderson’s tribute to Born in the USA, Scarecrow, and Music From Big Pink comes across as a seemingly generic artist trying to push his way into the overcrowded American rock market. It may never be the studio gem Anderson was hoping for, but fans now have 10 energetic additions to enjoy when Anderson pulls his van into their slice of American life, places where hardworking men and women can take The Hopeful and the Unafraid at face value as the rugged-but-bruised rock album of an artist seeking to capture the world as he sees it.

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