Different generations but a shared love of pop music: A young songwriter and a Valley veteran release new albums

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 08-18-2023 1:53 PM

Here She Comes

Jake Manzi

Two years ago, Valley singer-songwriter Jake Manzi released his debut album, “Whatever My Heart Allows,” a mostly pop-flavored record that explored the classic subject of love in all its complexities, especially the uncertain terrain that lies between between joy and heartbreak.

Now Manzi’s back with a new album, one that has more polish and drive. But the subject matter of the songs is still very much affairs of the heart.

“Here She Comes” offers 13 tunes, including a number of very radio-friendly ones, that range from rock to pop to country to the spaces in between. At times wistful and a bit dreamy, Manzi’s overall vibe and his vocals echo some of the sounds that he says first drew him to music, from Bruce Springsteen to Jackson Browne to the Wallflowers.

From the jangling acoustic and electric guitars on the rocking “Get Along” and “What Dreaming Is,” to the countryish “Cry All My Tears” with its instantly catchy chorus, the album is a good showcase of guitar-based pop, as well as some more acoustic tunes.

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Initially tracked live over four days at SpiritHouse Music in Longmeadow, with overdubs added later, the disc includes backing from some of Manzi’s friends from LuxDeluxe and other area musicians, as well as drumming by Griffin Goldsmith from the folk-rock band Dawes. (Goldsmith also played on Manzi’s first album.)

When it comes to his lyrics, Manzi says he doesn’t want to give the impression it’s all autobiographical material and that his love life is a crazy, emotional roller coaster. He says he often imagines his songs more as character sketches even if he’s singing from a first-person standpoint.

“My vision for this album was for it have a really expansive range of the heart, just the full range of the emotions you can go through,” he said in a recent phone call. “Those are the kinds of songs that have always appealed to me.”

Manzi has some strong musical roots. His father, Frank Manzi, is a longtime singer-songwriter and performer in the region, and Frank and other family members would sometimes break out their acoustic guitars at their Longmeadow home to sing. Eventually Jake caught the songwriting and performing bug, too.

A key contributor to his new album is his friend Caleb Rosazza from LuxDeluxe, who plays a variety of guitars and keyboards to back Manzi’s vocals and acoustic guitar (and harmonica on a few tracks).

Rosazza offers a range of sounds, from a bright but meaty 12-string electric solo on “Get Along,” to melodic slide guitar, a la George Harrison, on “What Dreaming Is.” (Rosazza also co-produced the album, as he did Manzi’s previous one.)

Another LuxDeluxe buddy, Jacob Rosazza, plays bass and adds some background vocals. Ned King, the LuxDeluxe singer, plays some guitar on the album as well. (King and Manzi also put out a co-written record last year, “King Manzi.”)

Lyrically, the songs cover that range of emotion Manzi wanted to capture, and his voice, sometimes ranging from a low register to a few points when he breaks into falsetto, charts that range as well.

The album’s first single, the somewhat slower, pop-flavored “Be Your Fool,” looks at love from the heartbreak angle: “Well I’ve been breaking my own rules / Letting you treat me so cruel ... I was so ready to be your fool.”

“Get Along,” though, strikes a more hopeful note: “I think we got a real good chance of getting along tonight.”

“I’m really happy with the way this all came together,” he said. “I got so much great support from everyone involved.”

Manzi, who lives in Holyoke, is preparing for a number of gigs in September — he performs regularly as part of a duo with Caleb Rosazza in the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge — and he’ll do a full-band show Sept. 8 at The Drake in Amherst. His website is jakemanzi.com.

Is There Wiggle Room?

Ray Mason

Jake Manzi is one of the younger singer-songwriters on the local scene. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Williamsburg’s Ray Mason, the elder statesman of Valley music, who’s into his 70s but keeps pumping out songs and albums with a much younger sensibility.

“Is There Wiggle Room?” is Mason’s newest record, his 14th CD (yes, he still releases CDs!), and, like the best of his music, it’s full of catchy melodies and chord progressions that can abruptly veer off in unusual directions and subject matter that might be called “Mason-like”: quirky, unpredictable, wry, and sometimes just a bit odd.

Who, for example, can forget one of Mason’s classic early songs, “She’s Wearing Her Hair Like Donna Reed”?

On the 11 cuts on “Is There Wiggle Room?” Mason and his trusty Silvertone guitar explore topics like a houseful of slugabeds, making day trips to heaven, and finding that perfect pair of pants for hanging around the house.

“Relaxin’ Pants,” which closes the album, is vintage Mason, a vignette more than a song — it clocks in at about a minute and half — with a countryish beat and some tuneful piano (played by Ken Maiuri), with Mason singing about pulling on pants that “always stretch to fit my waist” and that “got a lot of give without a lot of take.”

“Favorite Color Blue” is the kind of power pop that’s another Mason trademark, with a bright melody that shifts between major and minor chords, tautly strummed electric guitar, great drumming, and an electronic keyboard pulsing in the background.

It’s a brisk tale about someone who’s cruising through town in a new car, windows down, at ease, catching the eye of the song’s narrator: “You looked so comfortable / Was that really you? / In your favorite color blue.”

“Sleepyheads,” with its lumbering opening chords evoking the slow movements of a groggy household, could be a follow-up to the Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping,” John Lennon’s ode to idleness and hiding from the world.

The catchy title cut, meantime, has a country and western vibe with some fine lap steel guitar played by Tom Mahnken, who contributes other guitar parts and some keyboards to the album; he also produced the record.

Jason Smith handles the drums, while Mason adds his bass to his guitar and vocals. All in all, “Is There Wiggle Room?” recorded in Heartface Studios in Ashfield, is a nice addition to the catalog of one of the Valley’s musical luminaries.

Ray Mason will play Abandoned Building Brewery in Easthampton Sept. 2 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. His website is raymason.com.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

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