A1 Rainy Dues
A3 Mother Jane
B1 A Long Song
B3 Return To The Relief
B5 The Tredmill
More than four decades after its original release, a minor album by an obscure artist from the Vanguard catalog is finally reissued on vinyl. There are recordings on the Vanguard label by more famous artists than Marc Jonson, and discs that far outsold “Years” – but this collection has stood the test of time on its head, sounding more relevant today than when it was first pressed in 1972.
The maturity of these songs – both musically and lyrically – belie the youth of their writer/composer/performer/producer. Were this just a story about a wunderkind who’d gone unnoticed in his time, that would be interesting and satisfying enough, but “Years” is not only a stunning debut, but a harbinger of the promise of a young artist one would hope to follow for years to come – promise that was ultimately fulfilled by his subsequent albums, “Twelve In A Room” and “Last Night On The Rollercoaster” among others.
‘Rainy Dues’ kicks off “Years” with the tersely honest statement: “I don’t like some things I see” and proceeds to expound on that and other thoughts and feelings with a series of observations and claims about a relationship whose literal nature is nebulous but whose emotional reality is dense with longing and loss, and a tinge of hope sprinkled onto a platter of despair. The album’s second song, ‘Mary’, is a companion piece, a musical sequel to the opener, which treats us to wonderful lyrics as well as powerfully evocative singing.
I confess that the meaning of ‘Mother Jane’ remains a mystery to me after 30-plus years of listening, but I don’t need to understand it to enjoy it – the pondering is a prize in itself and keeps me coming back for more. Side one ends with ‘Fly’ – an existential lament depicting alienation from others and self. Listen for the additional voices coming in near the end of the song on the word “fly” with a simultaneous harp flourish: gorgeous.
‘A Long Song’ is the metaphoric and literal centerpiece of the album, falling precisely at the midway point. It’s sweet and tender, with a narrator sure of himself. The brief ‘Autopsy’ at is the shortest song on “Years”, but its five lines, sung twice, carry a hefty poignancy with a melancholic tune. ‘Return To The Relief’, a personal favorite, is a lyrical and musical adventure. The carnival ride of this song finishes with a musical reference to Jackie DeShannon’s 1969 popular single ‘Put A Little Love in Your Heart’ – Jonson simply sings the title of DeShannon’s hit over and over, with a great deal more urgency present than in the original; it’s as if the singer knows that he has the answer to the world’s problems and is bound to tell us that we must do this thing immediately to save ourselves.
‘Munich’ is the only song on the album which feels “dated” in any way – strictly speaking it isn’t “listenable” to the modern ear, but with this track we get a glimpse into the era it came out of – one can hear the influence of ‘Revolution 9’ from the Beatles’ “White Album”. 1972 was a time rife with experimentation on all levels, and ‘Munich’ is a representation from that period. The title could obliquely refer to the hostage taking at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany – the havoc of that event mirrored by the fragmented song.
The final track on the album is ‘The Tredmill’, which features a constrained and dulcet voice singing in front of a muted piano, interpolated with occasional drum. A visual vignette is described: a scene from a summer outing, a brief meeting immortalized in song. A hopeful, if sorrow-tinged, note on which to end.
To see Marc Jonson perform live is to marvel at the amount of aural ambiance he can create in a room with just his voice and guitar. To then listen to his studio work is to know you are in the presence of genius. In “Years” we can hear the beginnings of a young artist learning his craft at the highest level – in a professional recording studio for the first time, Marc Jonson deftly inserts brilliant production values to songs already possessing beautiful melodies and poetic lyricism. This is why RCA Records wanted to hire him as a performer and producer when he walked in off the street with a demo tape at the age of 20.
Marc Jonson once said that the reason he named the album “Years” was because as he labored in the studio it seemed to be taking years to complete. But in listening to this ensemble of songs one can feel the evolution of time added to consciousness from which wisdom emerges. This album is a gift to the ages from an artist who was just coming of age. (Text: Vincent Collazo)