What in the world has gotten into Mason Jennings? That was the question that I couldn't get out of my head after listening to his latest LP, a dark and heavy set of songs dealing with death, loss, murder, grief and all other sorts of cheeful themes. Not that Jennings hasn't tackled these issues before, just not so intensely and never in such a condensed set of songs. Past recordings from the singer/songwriter have dealt with issues such as spiritual searching, love, family, politics, faith, etc. But the music has always been upbeat and melodic. Things aren't so pleasant this time out. The lyrical subject matter is darker than anything he has ever released before. Songs such as "Pittsburgh" deal with a friend's drug overdose and the emotional aftermath while "The Field" looks at the current conflict in Iraq through the eyes of parents who have lost a child to the war. The song is drenched in grief and it's hard not to choke up when Jennings sings, "I don't want a victory. I just want you back". It is perhaps one of the most honest and effective anti-war songs to come along in quite a while; avoiding politics and appealing to the humanity within everyone regardless of their stance on the war. But just when you think your heart is going to break from listening to that song, along comes "Black Wind Blowing", a pitch black tale of murder and revenge between two brothers that will send chills up and down your spine. These songs are the heart of darkness on this album. They form a trifecta of agony and despair that is unlike anything the troubador has turned out before. The rest of the songs are stellar as well, but don't expect hook laden folk songs which has been Jennings' style. The songs here are very basic and they are not filled with catchy melodies. That is probably by design since that forces the listener to hone in on the lyrical content. As for the music, it matches the subject matter perfectly. Each song is stripped down to the bare bones essentials: guitar (electric or acoustic), drums and bass. There is no fancy polish or window dressing on these bitter pills. Jennings wants these songs to be tough to swallow. Indeed they are. Blood of man is a remarkable album from a remarkable talent. It's proof that Mason Jennings is first and foremost an artist who won't compromise his vision. This dark gem may not rank as his best album, but it may be the hardest to shake.