“I don’t know where this record would be without all of these guys,” explains Jason Myles Goss, referring to his band-mates on his new album Radio Dial. The Brooklyn-by-way-of-Massachusetts singer-songwriter recorded the album, released two days ago, last year at Vanity Sound in Brooklyn. Joel Arnow (drums), David Dawda (bass), Austin Nevins (guitar), and Sam Kassirer (keys) back him up on the record. If you recognize those last two names, you’ll like what you hear on Radio Dial.
Kassirer and Nevins play in Josh Ritter’s Royal City Band, and they are a big part of what makes Radio Dial Goss’ best album to date. “I was extremely lucky to be working with this amazing band, they had such great ideas about the songs and a keen intuition about what would sound right. We would usually start with something more dense and rhythmic and then slowly pull back until the songs felt open and unrestricted.”
It’s that intuition, and talent, of his backing band that makes Radio Dial Goss’ biggest sounding album yet. “There was more planning and pre-production that took place before we tracked these songs than occurred when making A Plea [for Dreamland]… We did demos of each well before the sessions and, by the time we were tracking the album, I had more concrete ideas about arrangements and how I wanted the songs to feel.” “Red Letter Man” and “Home” immediately pop out as songs helped by this more careful process; they feel fully developed…and their catchy, too.
Lyrically, Goss has always been an intellectual writer, following in the footsteps of his earliest influence (Bob Dylan) and contemporary artists like Josh Ritter. While the arrangements of Radio Dial add a lot to Goss’ music, they wouldn’t mean much without his words. “Most of those songs were written when I first moved to New York and were full of apprehension of being someplace new. The songs have fictional characters and are more adventurous. Radio Dial deals a lot with growing up in a small town, struggling with loss, and trying to find your own way — things that are more personal.”
“Black Lights” is a great example of Goss’ adventurous side. The album has several boxing references sprinkled throughout, and we finally get a whole song on the subject on track 11 as Goss presents a Dylan-esque narrative examining the trauma boxers subject themselves to (“the calm after a fist fight is the hollowest song I know.”) Fittingly, the song that follows (“Hospital Shirt”) details the struggles of an unnamed, but clearly serious, disease in a long, yet vague narrative (and throws in one last boxing reference).
Radio Dial is Goss’ fourth record, and his second with this band (only Dawda is new, replacing Zack Hickman on bass). His writing has evolved and he’s gone for more complex arrangements on Radio, building on the sound he developed for 2009’s A Plea for Dreamland. The band’s influence can be heard throughout the album, starting with its opener “Into the Night.” Its strong pop melody is strengthened by the fleshed out arrangement, introducing the bigger sound Goss was looking for. “Heavy” builds the idea even more, as Arnow and Dawda provide a danceable beat and Nevins continues his stellar guitar work.
The quieter songs benefit from the talented band, too. On “Bows and Arrows,” Nevins carefully adds in his electric layer as Goss quietly picks his acoustic guitar and sings a soft melody, a small but enjoyable touch to a song that could have easily been left a solo number. “Lion’s Mouth” receives a similarly careful treatment—delicate electric guitar and banjo work over a simple drum beat.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in each song’s idiosyncrasies—the band and Goss did such an excellent job arranging these songs. But it’s also important to focus on what’s front and center: an immensely talented songwriter with a great voice. With Radio Dial, Goss has delivered his best album to date. His writing has evolved and his ideas have gotten bigger, but you get the feeling he’s only begun to scratch the surface.
You can stream Radio Dial in full for free at Jason’s Bandcamp page, where you can also purchase the record. He’ll be playing with his full band in Newton Square, PA this Friday night at Burlap and Bean. More information can be found here.