Tyler Mast doesn’t have decades worth of releases to his credit, but he sounds like it. Rarely will you encounter a recording artist who writes and performs such complete songs. Even great songs are often marred, not fatally of course, by slight imperfections or minor poor decisions; perhaps the lyrics are perfunctory, or the mix is weak, etc. The nine tracks included on Mast’s latest solo release In the Company of a Friend are his first new songs in over five years and are full of a life lived wide open during that interval. The music and lyrics alike are born from an artist possessing a keen inner and outer eye and open the floodgates to a smorgasbord of emotion.
“Ayla” is one of the album’s emotional centers. Mast affects a bluesy tone for his vocals and it is appropriate. We’ve heard these sorts of lyrics before with its alcohol-laced imagery and generally downcast tone, but Mast’s writing never sounds cliched. Other sorts of keyboards make their presence felt throughout the remainder of In the Company of a Friend, but the piano present in “Ayla” is a perfect partner for Mast’s voice and words.
“In the Lupines” is one of the best overall band performances on the album. It must be said that, despite being released under his name, Mast never fails to approach the songs as if he is a bandleader rather than a solo performer relishing his moment in the spotlight. The frequent use of backing vocals supports this. “Serving the song” has been repeated like a mantra in articles and reviews for so long it has the trappings of cliché but, in this case, it isn’t. It is fact. “In the Lupines” is a top notch example of this aesthetic in play.
The piano-propelled singer/songwriter influences of “Last Fall” are impossible to deny. It doesn’t fall into histrionics, however, and you will be dazzled by the seamless orchestration of the playing. Mast obviously invests every bit of his available feeling into his vocal, especially its phrasing, but he’s likewise careful to never overstep. “Here’s to the Fools Who Tried” is quite a contrast. Mast’s songwriting wears several faces in this song, there’s rock and roll fire lapping along the edges, bluesy soul, and the lyrics are among In the Company of a Friend’s best.
The album’s title song is a substantial final curtain. “In the Company of a Friend” leans more on his blues influences with obviously great results. His lyrical eye remains as sharp as ever and it’s worth noting that Mast never overextends himself here or anywhere else. It is easy to hear the talent that’s earned him the opportunity to share the stage with Grace Potter, the Derek Trucks Band, Kat Wright, and others. He is already working on material for a follow-up, as well, so it appears Mast has recommitted himself to his music. In the Company of a Friend is more than a good start; it’s the opening to a spectacular new chapter.
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