I know I usually come off as a big, ol’ pushover, but the truth is that unblinking and plain-faced sincerity almost always makes me squirm.
The exception to that rule is Jason Thomas Mraz.
I’d follow that little trucker-hatted troubadour anywhere. (My twitter handle is a lyric from “Curbside Prophet.”) His love-everyone crunchiness is so unpracticed that it can even win over people who’ve been vomited on on the subway or navigated the Obamacare website in the first month. He is the human antithesis to Transformers: Age of Extinction. When life hands me bullshit and I’m tempted to give myself over to whining about what I expected or feel I’m owed, I close my eyes, count to ten, and think, “WWJD?” What would Jason do? Now, I imagine it’s easier to accept those twists and turns as a multi-platinum recording artist who’s also Chipotle’s main avocado supplier (and one of Willie Nelson’s smoking buddies), but that doesn’t mean his acceptance example isn’t helpful.
In honor of Mraz’s July 15th release Yes, I’m looking at my favorite Jason deep cuts. Deep cuts are a sore subject for many Mrazians, since “I’m Yours” belonged to us as a demo and a live favorite before it became a ubiquitous phenomenon. (“Anyone who doesn’t know ‘Who Needs Shelter,’ go to the back of the line,” my friend yelled to the mainstream radio crowd at our first post-“I’m Yours” Mraz show.) But I’ll put my fan privilege aside to acknowledge some lesser heard work from one of my generation’s most prolific songwriters. It’s what Jason would do.
Jason sang about the “sophomore slump” curse in the first single from his follow-up to Waiting for My Rocket to Come, Mr. A-Z. To be perfectly honest, that album is scattered and “Wordplay” didn’t move us like “The Remedy” did. “Plane” is the record’s standout track – more melancholic than what we’d come to expect in the little time Mraz had been in the spotlight but in line with his coffee shop open mic past. And it’s killer live.
“I’m leaving your town again
And I’m over the ground that you’ve been spinning
And I’m up in the air said ‘baby, hell yeah’
Well honey, I can see your house from here”
“You Fuckin’ Did It”
From Jason’s darkest song to one of his most joyful, “You Fuckin’ Did It” is a melodic tribute to his friendship with percussionist Toca Rivera. (Fun fact: Toca is the heir to an island in the South Pacific, but gave up his claim to the throne to pursue music in San Diego, of all places.) I heard this song for the first time at one of Jason’s acoustic Carnegie Hall shows; the entire crowd responded to its tongue-twisting lyrics and perfectly Mrazian sentiment.
“You touch me like an iPhone application
Move me like a smooth jazz music station
Doin’ what you do in the way that you choose to do them
Oh my god”
“I’m Coming Over”
We almost lost the hidden track when CDs became obsolete. (Thank god “Man From Milwaukee” got in under the wire.) But this sweet little gem is tucked away on Jason’s last studio album, Love Is A Four-Letter Word. So many of Mraz’s songs are about loving life and being your best self that we forget he can write the crap out of a traditional love song. There are few concessions I wouldn’t make to anyone who wrote me this song, is my point.
“I’m coming over, just to say ‘good night’
I hope you notice I was never over you”
The legend behind “Butterfly” is that Jason realized – to his disappointment – that he’d never released any music that would be played in a strip club. Thus, this song was born. It’s sexy without being cheesy, makes excellent use of the horn section he brought out on the We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. tour, and usually results in some harmless yet devastating hip rolling.
“You know that fortune favors the brave
Well let me get paid while I make you breakfast
The rest is up to you, you make the call”
“No Doubling Back”
“Anybody here on a date? Anybody here on a date, but you already know you’re gonna break up with that person?” That’s the intro on the most-played live version of this on my iPod and really, there aren’t enough songs with this specific purpose. You’ve got to pay careful attention for the dumpage lyrics, as “No Doubling Back” could easily pass for a cheerful ballad at first listen. Remember when Augustus Waters said, “It’d be a privilege to have my heart broken by you”? That.
“We have dodged the ropes of rain
Well the cats and dogs well they love to play
On the handsome fella with umbrella
Who once saved you your day”
“After An Afternoon”
As you can see in the video above wherein we have what seems to be a pubescent Mraz, “After An Afternoon” is vintage. His best songs are as clear as snapshots, and this one perfectly captures a luscious, languid day with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Bonus video: Lucky Emma requests this song and gets serenaded. She also shows remarkable restraint.
“Heart to ground
I am in love”
“What Mama Say”
Make no mistake: being a “Mama’s boy” is a plus.
“What mama say
Is what I’m gonna do
Mama said I should be with a girl like you
I’m gonna work real hard, it’s what I wanna do
I’m gonna give you all my lovin’ and make you a mama too”
“On Love, In Sadness”
Jason is often lumped in with the rest of the White Guys With Guitars (WGWG), by people – I assume – who’ve never heard his music. Some of the most unique aspects of Mraz as an artist are the way he uses his voice (“acoustic scatting,” let’s call it) and his tendency to play around with phrasing, changing it up from verse to verse and even line to line. This track from WFMRTC is a great example of both.
“And we just lay awake in lust and rust in the rain
And pour over everything we say we trust
It happened again, I listened in thru hallways and thin doors
Where the rivers unwind, rust and in the rain endure.”
“If It Kills Me”
Jason took WSWDWST on the road before the album dropped, so we were introduced to most of it live. I was warned about this song by my friend Becky who’d seen the show a few nights before me. There’s nothing like a really gnarly unrequited love song to make you feel like you’re in it, even if you’re not. And of course, the whole country fell for this track when genuine Mraz fanboy Travis Wall choreographed a contemporary routine for Jeanine and Jason on Season 6 of So You Think You Can Dance to the Casa Nova Sessions version.
P.S. Let’s hear it for Jason’s outfit in this video, huh? Avocado does a body good. #omega3s
“It would be such a beautiful moment
To see the look on your face
To know that I know that you know now”
“All Night Long”
The unwritten rules for our “Deep Cuts” posts usually preclude covers. But I had to make an exception for Jason’s version of this Lionel Richie classic, which so seamlessly integrated into the rest of the Beautiful Mess: Live on Earth setlist. On one hand, it’s just a fucking great song. And on the other, it can only reach these blissful heights in the hands of someone who considers “fiesta, forever” a profound call to action.
“Well, my friends, the time has come
To raise the roof and have some fun”
And that’s ten. Are you feeling uplifted yet, friends? Either way, please submit your favorite Mraz deep cuts in the comments and whatever you do, don’t worry your life away.