To be an artist in New Orleans, as it was before the levees broke, was to be immersed in a thick soup of jazz and blues, cultural variety, old café’s, and hints of spiritual awakening. For most of his life, twenty-four year old singer songwriter Jason Morant has been a part of this city, its Church, and its music.
Growing up in Louisiana with a guitar-playing father and various other artistic family members, Morant gravitated naturally toward music, eventually carving out his eclectic guitar-based style. As a local in New Orleans, Morant fine-tuned his sound while leading worship at his church and hammering out his own material on the side. He released his first album, Make Me New, in 1998, but widespread attention came with 2004’s national debut, Abandon.
Open, Morant’s Vertical Music follow-up, underscores the artist’s gift for melody, as colorful and textured as the city he’s from. It’s equal parts rock, pop, folk, and worship; he’s inspired by all of it.
“There’s an atmosphere of different expressions in my music,” explains Morant. “I’ve done concerts where in parts it’s a worship service, then we’ll play instrumental songs, other times we’re just cracking jokes, and then I’ll do original material and everyone sits around and listens. I love that.”
Work on Open began last year but halted when Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans, forcing Morant and his wife Brianna to relocate to Nashville. Impacted personally by the storm’s devastation, Morant shifted briefly from writing his full-length album to create an EP titled City of Two Rivers that benefits Katrina victims.
“It’s humbling to see how much life can change in an instant,” Morant reflects. “I’ve had family members and friends who’ve lost everything and still remain hopeful. I’m continually blown away by the unity in the Church’s response to this tragedy. And because so many cultures are represented in the city of New Orleans, I’ve seen how little race, color, or social status really matter when it comes to how God views us. I believe God celebrates our uniqueness and we should as well.”
Open demonstrates this diversity through its rich instrumentation that includes ambient strings and horns, much of which Morant arranged himself, along with piano, dobro, banjo, and accordion. Lyrically, the songwriter exposes his range too, delving into personal subject matter and addressing the Church on issues near to his heart.
“There are moments of desperation and pleading, and there are moments of rejoicing,” Morant says of his new work. “I always strive for honesty in my lyrics and try to focus not just on what I think people want to hear but on what I believe we need to be confronted with. As a Church, I think we’ve tossed aside the key elements of loving people and left it up to evangelists and alter calls. I’m learning to open up more to the things I tend to boycott or hide from,” he says.
Morant exemplifies this attitude on Open’s title track, a song that shatters the notion of a self-help culture and encourages the listener to live in humility, love, and purpose.
“One of the most amazing things I get to hear is how my songs have helped others in articulating their own feelings to the Lord,” he says of performing. “Music has an inherent potential to convey thoughts and emotions where mere words fall short.”
In past seasons, Morant has toured with such acts as Bebo Norman and Bethany Dillon, and has covered a lot of ground on his own throughout the southeast. Beginning in March he will hit the road with Todd Agnew and Big Daddy Weave for a string of tour dates nationwide.
Though still early in his career, Morant is already distinguished by his alluring personality, as well as his open-minded approach to music---grabbing pieces wherever he finds them. He recalls an afternoon at an outdoor café in New Orleans with his wife and their chocolate lab. A street musician wandered through the crowd playing a clarinet with a jar for tips. At the time, Morant’s recording was still scheduled in New Orleans and he asked the stranger to drop by and play on his album.
“I like taking chances,” he admits. “My favorite albums are those that take me on some sort of journey, so I work really hard to do that with my music too. It feels unpredictable.” Morant pauses and stares off for a minute as if lost in a thought, and then continues... “I live inside my imagination most of the time.”
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