Dave Mason has proven again to be as innovative as he is original. Until the release of this new album, Alone Together was the single masterstroke of his solo career. The Cass Elliot sessions seemed to catch Mason's songwriting on a downswing (except for "To Be Free"), though his ability there as an arranger and producer was still astoundingly clear. Headkeeper (released against his wishes) featured mostly new arrangements of his older tunes; only the closest listeners were really satisfied (as they had every right to be) with the rich brew of Mason's guitar and Mark Jordan's smooth, funky piano.
Mason's new recording (his first on Columbia) contains a wealth of styles and moods. Not only has he written many fresh tunes (though few rival the full-throated ease of Alone Together), he's also arranged and produced them so well that even occasional flaws in conception (flaws, by the way, that would be virtues for most rock musicians) are more interesting than disturbing. Powerful and delicate by turns, the fine songs and settings are handled magnificently by an imposing line-up of sidemen, among them Jim Keltner, bassists Chuck Rainey, Carl Radle and Greg Reeves, and of course Jordan on keyboards.
Cameo appearances by L'Angelo Mysterioso (billed as Son of Harry in these lackluster times) and Stevie Wonder are far from gratuitous inserts. Stevie's chromatic harp, more like a bright, hard tenor than ever, adds a second melodic voice to the album's most moving ballad, "The Lonely One."
The quality and nature of Mason's unique writing style is bound up in the logic of his arranging and producing. Each tune is characteristically structured by internal rhythmic shifts that parallel harmonic or melodic changes. Thus, arrangements don't simply embellish songs as much as they fulfill them, mirroring pool-like the rhythm of the melody line.
"It's Like You Never Left" is a staggering union of composition, arrangement, and production. Like the ballads, the title rocker is segmented by a successive development of grooves from verse to chorus to bridge as well as by a dissonant funk wedge of astonishing effect.
Mason's singing is typically rich and strong, full of dissolving textures and a sure sense of phrasing. His guitar soloing, perfect within its clear limits, is peculiarly suited to the settings; though not as wasteless as elsewhere in his recordings. A full grasp of his rhythm guitar tracks, on the other hand, creates the effect of a symphony that learned to swing. The resonance of the guitars (on the title tune especially) is produced by a slight aura of reverb that kindles in every instrument a melancholy glow.
Originally published in The Boston Phoenix, January 1, 1974