(3 out of 5)
The first studio-recorded solo acoustic album from J Mascis, SEVERAL SHADES OF WHY is made up of simple, straightforward numbers that occasionally feature a guest or two to augment Mascis’ voice and guitar. Some muted strings show up here and there, as does a little tambourine and some background harmonies, thanks to the likes of Kurt Vile, Kevin Drew, Ben Bridwell, and others. This, of course, could be the description of any number of earnest singer-songwriter debuts, but this is J Mascis – the man responsible for Dinosaur Jr’s guitar squall for the last quarter-century. So, just as with his previous two acoustic albums (MARTIN + ME and LIVE AT CBGB’S, both of which were recorded live in the mid-‘90s and consisted primarily of Dino Jr songs), there’s a bit of mental reorientation necessary. Yet, while those albums had a bit of novelty and surprise working in their favor – hey, “Repulsion” is a pretty good song when you strip it down! – SEVERAL SHADES OF WHY must necessarily be judged on its own merits. Unfortunately, beyond those big-name contributors and Mascis’ singular warble, there’s not much about the album to distinguish it. The moderately frisky “Not Enough” is a weird, jaunty number that grafts Ben Bridwell’s Southern twang onto Mascis’ New England gloom, and “Listen To Me” opens the album with a bit of soft-rock sunshine; but for the most part, there are too few surprises on what should be one of the year’s most unusual albums.