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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Folk Rock > Mason Jennings - Use Your Van (Music)

Mason Jennings – Use Your Van (Music Documentary)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: D     Documentary: B



Are you sick of bad, plastic, tired, soulless, pathetic, rolling with our voice ‘til we suffocate garbage that passes itself off as music?  If so, you are really gong to enjoy Andy Grund’s look at music artist Mason Jennings in Use Your Van, a 2004 look at Jennings cutting a new studio album and the serious effort he puts fourth to make music about something.  The songs that surface as we watch include:


1)     Lemon Grove Avenue

2)     Butterfly

3)     Sorry Signs On Cash Machines

4)     Crown

5)     Bullet

6)     In Your City

7)     Lonely Computer Screen

8)     Godless

9)     Ballad Of Paul & Sheila

10)  The Mountain

11)  Fourteen Pictures

12)  The Light (Part One)

13)  Killer’s Creek



There are other music-in-the-making moments as well, in what is already his fifth studio album, Use Your Voice.  Well, he does use his voice, so well in fact that I was reminded of the intelligence of singer/songwriters of the past and present who were good at telling it like it was and is.  He’s got one of those storytelling voices like Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Leo Sayer, Don Henley, The Finn Brothers or other greats and I felt like I was watching the rise of a serious talent the likes of the major record labels cannot seem to find anymore.  They do not have the will or the people with the insight to back anyone unless they are pre-packaged and their individuality sanded down into nothingness.  Jennings is with the smaller Bar/None label, one I instantly want to learn all about.


We do not learn anything too personal or extraordinary about Jennings and fellow musicians Brian McLeod and Chris Morrissey, but we do not need to do the “reality TV’ cliché, because it shows them being for-real musicians, performers and artists, and that is achievement enough.  That Grund does not get silly and fancy with the camera and actually knows how to direct is even more remarkable.  No Music Video clichés, no Truth Or Dare crisis, or anything to be hip by being intentionally repulsive.  Use Your Van dodges just about every cliché most such films in the last 20 years tripped up on, and that makes all 88 of its minutes a true pleasure.


The letterboxed 1.78 X 1 image is nicely shot by director Grund with Panasonic’s DVX-1000 camera in the Mini-DV format, then transferred to film.  The result is impressive and looks more film-like since Grund has talent and does not get silly.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo has no true surround information, which is a shame, because the music deserves it, but this will suffice.  Use Your Van is a model for fine films on music as smart as Scorsese’ The Last Waltz (1978) and for many like myself, an introduction to a class act in Jennings and his crew.  Hope they go multi-platinum soon and have a ton of hits.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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