In a bid to pay tribute to Penny Lang, the influential Canadian folk musician who passed away in 2015, her son Jason Lang has recorded Handled With Care featuring reimagined versions of her best music.
His renditions never feel like they overstep his mother’s original visions, which is most noticeable in the first song on the album, Firewater. For a song about the death of Penny’s alcoholic parent, it’s quite upbeat; her voice in the original recordings is rugged, with a restrained but snappy spoken word style that requires a quieter performance from the bluesy instrumental melodies. Jason, by comparison, sings more melodically, incorporates more harmonies, and includes more instruments. He also goes to much higher registers, but his gentle voice against the soft guitar still captures the original song’s tone.
Plumb Tuckered Out, on the other end of the spectrum, is Jason’s biggest departure from the source material – it’s more than double the original runtime, and it features several new solos written and performed by Jason, including an acapella trumpet solo. But the history behind the transformations makes them feel well within the spirit of his mother’s music.
At the age of 12, Jason asked his mother for his social insurance number to start his first paper route, only for her to confess his legal name was not Jason Lang, but John Geremhia Angelo Donato Taddeo. According to Penny, the priest who baptized Jason put his own name down on the birth certificate, believing it was wrong for the child to be born out of wedlock. An adult Jason later filed handwritten paperwork to the Quebec government to change his name, but they misread the document, falsely adding “Jason Lang” onto the previous name and misspelling Geremhia as “Geremlira.”
When Jason’s solos start, he calls out his middle names as though cueing in band members, and he occasionally makes fun of the performances. He’s taking the absurd and exhausting moment in stride, much like how Penny’s chipper attitude in Firewater and Plumb Tuckered Out mocks the unfaithful partner and father parent she’s frustrated with. Not to mention, Jason’s exaggerated performance style combined with the focus on themes of family and love makes it feel like he’s looking at the positives – celebrating Penny’s life rather than mourning her death.
The album’s faithful adaptations and ambitious experimentations show that Jason is in fact handling her music with care, just as Penny once handled him with care.