Sad Iron Music

I think I met Jason Lewis just being around town in New York. That thing called was exploding in the late 90s (for us) and many, many of the same people landed at the same shows. I met one of my best friends at a bar before seeing Whiskeytown at Tramps. A conversation started over The Replacements' "Here Comes a Regular," which I played on the jukebox, and now 12+ years later, we talk regularly. Another one of my closest friends and I met at the Fleadh Festival on Randall's Island. I think it was during Billy Bragg's set. Similar faces almost weekly. The Mercury Lounge, Irving Plaza, The Bowery Ballroom, The Lakeside Lounge, North Six, The Rodeo Bar, and the list goes on forever. Turns out Jason was in a band called Star City, named after a town in West Virginia, where he grew up. I then checked out his band, and thus it began. Suddenly, my friends and I were going to every Star City show. And we'd hang around the bars with Jason and some band members until last call. And before I knew it, I was managing them.

I served in this role for their second, and last record, 2001's Inside the Other Days, a record that still gets regular spins almost a decade out. Aside from the endless nights out talking music, two events stand out for me. First was the record-release party at The Mercury Lounge. The joint was packed to the gills, and I served as merch man. I think we sold about $1000 in t-shirts and CDs that night. Over a cold beer late that night, Jason tossed me a big hug. And then there was the post-9/11 benefit at the Lakeside Lounge. Like many New Yorkers, I witnessed it all as it happened, and wanted to do my tiny part. And the band, of course, was more than willing. With nothing more than a baseball cap to pass around, we collected $1200 that night.

(There was also the near record-deal with some obscure UK company. We made the right call.)

A lot has changed. Neither Jason nor I live in New York anymore. I'm out west and he's in Iowa, having secured a MFA from the exceptional University of Iowa Writer's Workshop. Due to time and distance, we haven't been in touch all that much over the years. But we've recently reconnected. He let me know that he'd been working on a new record under the name Sad Iron Music. It'd been nine years, so who the hell knew what he'd sound like. I could barely even remember what he looked like.

Jason Lewis with Star City, Lakeside Lounge, NYC

I've now had the record for about a week. This is Jason's best record. He still grabs the pretty Americana that made up Star City's sound, but is far more, I don't know, risky, both lyrically and pacing-wise. Pretty ballads come easy to Lewis, but with Sad Iron Music he takes numerous steps off the comfortable path and explores. "Red Light" sounds straight off of Springsteen's Nebraska with the firm yet haunting guitar that works in tandem lyrically with a middle America that we on the coasts may sympathize with but rarely feel. "Ships on the Sea" is signature Lewis: no frills, pretty, moving. As I sit in a cafe looking out at rainy San Francisco, this song is perfect. "Tom Waits For No One" is so good that if I'm not listening to this, I'll probably spend the rest of the day listening to Waits. The overall highlight is "Sleep," perhaps the best song Lewis has ever recorded. Every time I toss on the record, as much as I want to listen top-to-bottom, I can't help but play this song over and over. Lewis' vocals on this track are yes, perfect. And strangely, despite the title, the song makes me want to sing. And maybe dance. As does most of the record.

The wait's been worth it, Jason. Welcome Sad Iron Music.

You can buy a physical copy for $9.99 or a digital copy for $5 here. Now that's a bargain.