Letting some of it trickle out while trying to soak it all in

Sunday, March 11, 2018

How to Become a Pirate Hunter

Tanner Lex Jones' concept album How to Become a Pirate Hunter is adventurous, fun, and surprisingly emotional. The songs tell the coming-of-age stories of Samuel, Charlotte, and Eric, characters from Marty Reeder's young adult novel of the same name. Using a hodgepodge of genres including sea shanty, alternative and classic rock, indiepop, nursery rhyme, and country western, Jones creates an engaging and, at times, epic musical experience.

How to Become a Pirate Hunter could have easily been a fan-fiction gimmick, only of interest to devotees, but Jones drew me in from the first tin-whistle melody of the first track, Samuel. Solid songwriting, production values, and polished but heartfelt performance come together in an uplifting and moving album.

As usual, Jones weaves candid and piercing lyrics with full but not over-orchestrated accompaniment. He 
shows more vocal and emotional range than in previous albums, particularly in the seven-plus minute long This Boy. Like in Reeder's novel, Jones snaps between mundane scenes in a suburban high-school to 18th century sea battles. While the songs stay true to the novel, Jones' storytelling transcends the details of the plot, addressing questions of how to find one's place, wrestling with external and internal expectations, and balancing fear with safety.

Jones multi-genre musical past is apparent in the album. Influences range from Flogging Molly, Coldplay, They Might Be Giants, Decembrists, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Mason Jennings. Despite the sometimes abrupt transitions between styles, the album has a strong arc and cohesive presence. The musical diversity combined with honest storytelling kept me engaged from the first to the fifteenth listen. Jones has delivered a thoughtful and deep album that my kids like as much as I do. Five stars.

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