Pennsylvania’s Mason Porter is on a serious roll. In recent months, they’ve released a single based on the Edgar Allen Poe story The Tell Tale Heart, had a small batch craft beer named after them, and now have partnered with the National Park Service’s Centennial celebration to release a new EP, Heart Of the Mountains. While many sponsorships can be blatant advertisements, the way Mason Porter has taken the very essence of embracing nature and infused it into their songwriting and playing is both impressive and heartwarming. It’s hard to find a more universally agreed upon subject than the protection and importance of our many unspoiled parks and preserves, and the merging of that thought with the mountain music made by Mason Porter is inspired.Opening with the title track, Mason Porter kicks off the nature themed collection of tunes with a very visceral lyrical look at the enveloping sense of being far from civilization, lost in nature’s splendor. The driving mandolin, fiddle and drums give the song a galloping nature that invokes the gleeful spirit of running free. “See America,” the second track, talks of second chances and the boundless hope that is the American Dream. “Box Of Answers” features a meditative, lilting examination of choices, mistakes and the inability of modern distractions to fill the emotional needs that we all possess. To find life’s riddles, we fire have to put more thought into asking the right question. A much needed reminder that was very well put.Mason Porter takes this nature themed opportunity to deliver a spellbinding take on the old-as-the-hills song “Shenandoah.” It’s been adapted and reworked many times throughout its hundreds of years of existence, and Mason Porter continues in that long tradition by merging modern production and sensibilities with a timeless sound. The ethereal opening of “You And I” shows the depth of sound, variety of tempos and incredible potential of Mason Porter’s diverse array of instrumentation. Whispering and wistful, the romantic song touches not on the more familiar ground of finding or losing love but the less examined area of how to keep the flame alive.The closing tune, “Yosemite,” is a lengthy instrumental that allows the band to stretch out and find fresh ways to fill space in ways only they can. It’s a strong song and a telling indicator of the band’s development. You can literally hear the thought put into the spacing and pacing of the proceedings and it’s proof that proper planning gives bands the best chances to shine.Heart Of the Mountains is a strong statement from Mason Porter about the state of the band and its future, which is certainly as clear and wide open as the parks that the album celebrates. With the amount of material already released this year, it’s a safe bet we’re not done hearing from them, but for now, fans of modern bluegrass have six new songs of gold to treasure.
As the stakes for standardized tests continue to rise, a new nonprofit organization will offer free preparation courses to disadvantaged high school students in Los Angeles in the hopes of improving their college opportunities.SEE College Prep — which provides SAT preparation programs to low-income students through partnerships with existing college programs — hopes to use USC as its base of operations.SEE hopes work with USC students to help students gain entrance into four-year colleges. The organization will be coordinating with a federally funded program that offers grants to poor students.“Our hope is that USC will more or less be the hub of [SEE] in the Los Angeles area,” said Garrett Neiman, the Stanford student who founded SEE and scored a 2400 on his SAT.SEE has already established programs in other parts of the state, with partnerships at Stanford University and UC Irvine. SEE offers a five-week, 42-hour program and curriculum designed by students from Stanford, according to the programs website.“This last summer we helped over 500 students,” said Austin Hay, a USC sophomore majoring in environmental engineering and SEE’s vice president of programs. “The average improvement score was 240 points.”As SEE expands into Southern California, Neiman hopes USC students will be a driving force in the program, both as tutors and volunteers.The main obstacle to finding volunteers is their test scores, Hay said, because SEE requires students to score in the 99th percentile across the board. As a result, many applicants are ineligible from the beginning.But Hay said he is still attempting to gather interest for the launch next summer. SEE is currently seeking tutors, recruiters, managers and advertisers.“Students would find it fulfilling to help [other] students, who are not as privileged, get into a school like USC,” Hay said.Laura Welch, a freshman majoring in business administration, said she knew students who didn’t take the SAT because of the cost, and said she would be interested in helping kids in similar situations by working as a tutor for SEE.“Especially since we’re so fortunate to be here,” Welch said. “[By taking SEE], it doesn’t matter where you come from or your financial situation.”According to Neiman, SEE also helps the communities where students take the nonprofit classes by recruiting the program’s top graduates as tutors.“By bringing back role models from those communities, we give students access to peers who really made it,” Neiman said.