As frontman for seminal grunge act Dinosaur Jr., J Mascis has mastered a ferociously loud guitar sound and a monotone vocal whine that works spectacularly well for his band, even when it obscures how tuneful and well-constructed his songs are. When he puts out records under his own name, though, Mascis tends to go softer and unplugged, which emphasizes the quality of the songwriting, but also the limitations of his voice. So it goes with Several Shades Of Why, a collection of songs that wouldn’t sound out of place on a ’70s country-rock album—they’re pleasantly Poco-esque—but keep coming up short because the person singing them lacks the expressive range of the musicians he’s aping. Several Shades Of Why isn’t unusually spare or overly morose; the title track features a beautiful string section, while the spooky “Make It Right” adds a soulful flute solo. Songs like “Not Enough” and “Is It Done” have a chipper vibe that resembles Mascis’ 2005 spiritualist exercise Sing & Chant For Amma. But when “Is It Done”—or the catchy “Where Are You”—breaks for a pedal-aided guitar solo, it’s a reminder of what’s missing from Several Shades’ multiple mumbly acoustic drones. A mellow Mascis is like a sports car stuck in a school zone: The chassis still looks good, but we don’t get to see what it can really do.
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