Since leaving jam-pop darlings Lucy Vincent in 2008, Kelly Ravin  has carved out a nice little niche for himself in Burlington. Over the years the lanky guitarist has spent time with a number of other local ensembles — notably alt-whatever collective Cannon Fodder — and is currently a member of hard-charging B-town rockers Waylon Speed . It seems this Queen City game of musical chairs has served Ravin well. His latest album, Music From the Mason Jar, reveals a grittier, more artful and self-assured songwriter than was heard on his 2008 solo debut, Barbed Wire .
Ravin’s debut, while impressive in moments, generally suffered a lack of fortitude. It was not unpleasant, mind you. But maybe that was part of the problem. The album was safe, as though the songwriter had yet to fully divest himself from the sun-bleached vibes that defined his previous band. Mason Jar — dark, poetic and noticeably informed by ragged alt-country — suggests Ravin has come into his own. It’s not a total reinvention. Ravin’s most appealing qualities are still abundant: disarming charm, clever wordplay and a sweet, reedy croon. Rather, the new album represents an evolution, one that should place Ravin among the area’s songwriting elite.
“Get on Your Saddle” spurs Mason Jar into loping motion. Here and elsewhere on the record, Ravin resembles a young, Whiskeytown-era Ryan Adams, cooing weary, late-night observations with just the slightest edge-softening twang. But Ravin’s drawl seems less an affectation than a natural concession to the song’s denim-clad aesthetic.
“Headlights and Liquor” is an aching, whiskey-soaked march that simmers with self-deprecating, backwoods charm as Ravin pleads, “Can we just take my car? / You can leave yours at the bar / I’ll drive you up the hill in the morning.” And then: “That drive seemed to take all night / I feel like I was stuck in the headlights / I can play the chords, I’ve just gotta get the notes right.”
“Raspberry Patch” is a surprising gem. What begins as a seemingly schmaltzy ode to small-town Americana and its implicit nostalgia is in fact a heartfelt ode to, well, small-town Americana and nostalgia. But Ravin handles himself with grace, straddling the fine line between earnestness and honesty. That’s no mean feat, and underscores Ravin’s increasing skill as a songwriter.
Music From the Mason Jar is not without the occasional stumble. But, unlike on Barbed Wire, Ravin dusts himself off and gets back in the saddle, challenging listeners to join him. You’d be well advised to do just that.
Ravin celebrates Music From the Mason Jar with a release party at the Parima Acoustic Lounge this Friday, August 27.