Jason Heath and the Greedy Souls look for hope and life affirmation in that heart of darkness throughout their second album, Packed for Exile, released independently on Still Small Recordings.
Firmly entrenched in organically American music, the band mines elements of rock, country and folk coupled with rich storytelling and the poking and prodding of emotional contexts both personal and worldly.
Packed for Exile follows Jason Heath and the Greedy Souls’ first release, The Vain Hope of Horse, which PASTE Magazine called “a wonderful debut: ragged, soulful and well-written." The compelling collection included guest appearances by Tom “The Nightwatchman” Morello (Rage Against the Machine), Wayne Kramer (MC5) and Wilco’s Nels Cline on lap steel. The songs resonated with strains of working class rock’n’roll and rustic punk, leaving Dave Marsh, legendary rock journalist and author, to comment, "Jason Heath and the Greedy Souls speak to the heartache and joy in the world, with the wisdom not to try to separate them, and the skill to make all of it beautiful."
“Actually, we didn’t set out to do a record,” Heath says. “I was working with other musicians and had a lot of songs that didn’t fit into that repertoire, so I recorded demos of me and just acoustic guitar, then added different members of the Greedy Souls, plus Nels, Tom and Wayne joining in. So while Vain Hope sort of became the record it wanted to be and just happened, for Exile, we’ve gone into it as an actual band album.”
The Greedy Souls include the core of Heath, Jason Federici (son of late E Street Band member Danny Federici) on accordion and organ, guitarist Aaron Gitnick, Will Mack on upright and electric bass, and Heath’s lifetime compadre Abe Etz on drums, as well as distinctive touches from, pianist Chris Joyner and fiddle player Ysanne Spevack.
The songs on Exile are fresh and original yet also echo with legacy. This is especially so on the album’s first single, and deceptively upbeat “California Wine,” which is filled with streaks of Golden State sunshine through its buoyant melody, but also brings with it wary skepticism.
“There’s a collective consciousness about the myth of California,” Heath says. “It’s the Wild West, the dream come true, the gold rush. There’s timelessness about the idea and it’s got weight now in the modern age. You see people come and go with dreams on their sleeves sometimes those dreams get smashed on the rocks.”
The elegiac “This Blind Heart,” comes off as sheer introspection, but there are layers to be found beneath the haunting melody and confessional lyrics. “It sounds on the surface as though it’s mostly about relationships,” Heath says. “But it could be about bigger things – fighting on instead of fighting with your existence, a progress of evolution for something better.”
The swelling waltz, “A Fighter’s Lullaby” is a definite standout, filled with resolve and comforting support. “As we were working on it, Jay’s dad was pretty ill with cancer and the song seemed to become about situations of that nature, traveling that wilderness of struggle and despair,” Heath notes.
The band kicks things up with stomping, blues-drenched saloon swagger of “Devil Ain’t Talkin’” and turns to more reflection with a chugging rhythm atop a musical whimsy in “Runnin’ Like a River.”
“It’s an interesting metaphor for things. In all the years of pop music, people haven’t really gone too wrong with the river metaphor,” Heath says. “I like the idea and it goes with the album’s exile theme. I can’t help but look at exile in old testament terms and the song has that imagery – Babylon, leaving slavery, Zion, leaving excess and running out of there, like a river, not knowing where you going to but you're heading out anyway.”
In the firelight warmth of “Ghost in My Home,” the exile theme continues on. “It’s about how you can often be in total exile, forced upon you or self imposed, and feel that while being in a close relationship with somebody,” Heath says. “You’re with them and you see each other everyday and yet, you feel transparent and alone.”
A Los Angeles area native, born in the city of Inglewood, Heath was raised all over Southern California. His interest in making music began to rise in 6th grade with long time friend, Abraham Etz.
“We decided to start a band before we could play. That was quite a long time ago,” Heath, says. “He chose drums, and I picked bass but got a six string before I got a bass. We were so bad we had to write our own songs; we'd practically kill ourselves trying to figure out a Ramones song.”
As the years went by, music became central to their life as Heath and Etz found themselves playing together in various outfits, including Spinewire, who recorded with Tom Morello and producer Dennis Herring (Elvis Costello, Modest Mouse).
The Greedy Souls began to come together in December 2006. “The series of songs I’d worked on at open mic’s and house parties around LA with a revolving group of troubadours sort of turned into that first album.”
Other recordings also include a version of Bruce Springsteen’s “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” in tribute to Jason Federici’s father who was such an essential part of the song. The Greedy Souls offer it free through the site Backstreets.com, staying true to the original spirit in an evocative re-telling of the New Jersey boardwalk story.
With the release of Packed for Exile, the band carries its vision forward through songs that paint pictures of lives in flux, meeting challenges sometimes unseen.
“It’s Americana in terms of being American country, folk, blues, punk and rock ‘n’ roll influenced,” he says. “We like to call it Post-Americana Acoustelectric, Agit-POP, Arena Folkountry Rawk…. It’s all working class music, with common themes – love, loss, redemption and the search for justice.”
For Jason Heath and the Greedy Souls, that search goes on, in a mission of music.