Local Albums: April 2010 – Sad Iron Music is the musical persona of Jason Lewis, originally from West Virginia, but living now in Iowa City and attending the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He was in the alt-country band Star City that a few years back achieved some prominence, accompanied, unfortunately, by little financial success. After turning to writing of the quieter, literary sort, Lewis thought he was done with the music business. Sad Iron Music is what snuck up on him while he was making other plans.
Sad Iron Music isn’t country music, exactly, or rather it’s what country music should be–exploring the folk music idioms codified in country to make listeners feel something genuine. Lewis’ songs lack the bathetic pandering to sentiment in which commercial country wallows. On “My Waterloo,” the Napoleonic metaphor is employed in so offhand a way to drain it of drama, and in the end the sound of the words is more important than the historical reference. Elliptical lines like “is it true you can spin your arms, spin ’em round like a Tilt A Whirl?” defy objective interpretation, yet the emotion of the song–a yearning that defies direct description–comes through loud and clear.
The up-tempo “Outta My Heart,” driven by layers of fuzz guitars, is a little more direct lyrically. But still has it’s wry lines, like “I don’t know if I can make this make sense without a little wine.” The close vocal harmonies and major chords are straight out of the country canon, but Lewis makes this break-up song fresh and exciting. And that’s Sad Iron Music’s central appeal–doing things that have been done a million times before, but making them compelling and new.