In 2006, on the fiddle-led "Maybe Cocaine," Nick Jaina sang: "Every time I see a film about a doctor/ I think that's what I should be/ I should be savin' lives."
It's not so much the plight of M.D.-wannabes. Most young creatives with a lick of intelligence have wondered if perhaps they should devote their life to a seemingly less selfish, more philanthropic cause than "their art." And most parents who've heard, "I'm moving to Portland to be a musician/painter/writer," can sympathize. Thank God, then, for Jaina's newest release, Wool.
A collection of 11 somber and eclectic folk numbers, as well as three spare, glockenspiel-speckled "interludes," Wool (out March 4 on Hush Records) proves Jaina has moved beyond youthful soul-searching into a confident mastery of his craft—both as storyteller and band leader (the well-utilized talents of Nathan Langston, violin; Ali Ippolito, accordion, clarinet and multi-instrumentalist Jason Leonard pervade the album). Wool swallows up the 30-year-old's influences and spits them out as an original work.
From incredibly Lou Reed-ish, bittersweet opener "Maryanne" to macabre, Waitsian piano ballads "Power" and "Apple Seed" and the klezmer-tinged honky tonk of "Ponchatoula," Jaina speaks to all the twenty- and thirtysomethings who spent their adolescent years catching up with the music of generations we were pissed we missed out on: the drunken cadence of beat poets, the plight of the Southern bluesman, the drug-addled (yet glamorous) lives of New York artheads like Lou Reed and sonic pupil David Bowie.
Yet, the narratives are graced by Jaina's own wry sense of humor: When he dryly assures Maryanne, after a rollicking piano-led "la dah dah" refrain, "Next time/ You'll be richer/ You'll be taller," you can hear his crooked smile. You've gotta use what you've got; Jaina's figured that much out. So when "Maybe Cocaine" asks, "Why am I writing songs?"Jaina has his answer: Wool is why.
Jaina celebrates the release of Wool Friday, Feb. 22, at Mississippi Studios. 7 & 10 pm. $10. 21+. Also Sunday, Feb. 24, at LocalCut's next Portland Lounge Series. Towne Lounge. 9:30 pm. Free. 21+. Photo: Jaina, taken by Melani Brown.