Mason Jennings

The American heartland has been unfairly deprived of its share of plainspoken, homegrown frat-dude acoustic-guitar troubadours. Good ones, I mean. Minnesota's Mason Jennings aims to fix that: On his lovely Use Your Voice, he makes like a Midwestern Jack Johnson, singing simple, tuneful little ditties about lowercase concerns in a sotte voce purr that sounds like he's talking to you over a cup of coffee. The appeal of his music is in its understated modesty, which doesn't mean he can't shine when he wants to--his "Ballad of Paul and Sheila" movingly eulogizes the late Minnesota Senator Wellstone and his wife.