After three years, Jason Myles Goss has released the follow-up to his excellent Radio Dial, which was one of my favorite albums of 2012. This Town Is Only Going to Break Your Heart, his fifth record, which came out this weekend, may be even better.
For starters, Goss, who contributed to Popdose’s benefit album, You Can’t Live on Love Alone, takes a few more musical chances this time around. Where Radio Dial stuck with traditional folk-rock arrangements, This Town takes detours, beginning with the opener, “Joplin,” which is centered around a slightly distorted, open-tuned electric finger-picked riff. “Things Are Getting Harder” has a touch of blue-eyed soul about it, both in the keyboards and its “People Get Ready” chord progression, and there’s even a fuzz bass and in-the-red vocals on “Raised Right.”
And then there are the lyrics. While This Town isn’t a true concept album, many of the 11 songs are set in dead-end factory towns, the types of places where, as he sings in “When You’re Lonesome,” “all the high school bullies become small-town cops.” Goss approaches his subjects with a sharp eye for detail, creating compelling characters who have been forced to come to grips with their baggage as they face the challenges of adulthood. This is most evident on the album’s centerpiece, “Set Me Free,” a breathless, five-minute portrait of blue-collar desperation that could have come straight from Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska.
Percoset mothers in their Revlon disguise
Dead-in-the-water looks still in their eyes
With penciled eyebrows a permanent surprise
How in the world were they once little girls?
Sins of the father will be carried upon
Down to the river and down to the pawn
New ones will come after the old ones have gone
Will you carry them? Can you carry them?
We keep the brightest things so deep in the dark
They map the corners of our curious hearts
They make us whole and then they tear us apart
Is that called growing up, or is that giving in?
As with Radio Dial, what keeps these songs from bringing the listener down is Goss’ strong and confident voice. It’s one of the main reasons why the notes of optimism that close the album — the gentle “Roanoke Hearts” followed by “For All It Is Worth” — sound hard-earned and natural instead of forced.