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Jake Lear – Diamonds And Stones

Self Release

10 songs – 41 minutes

Diamonds And Stones is the follow-up to singer/songwriter/guitarist Jake Lear’s 2009’s Lost Time Blues. Born and raised in Vermont, Jake has spent the last three years in Memphis, playing his songs and plying his trade on Beale Street. And if that sounds like “real” blues with a slight twist, so does Diamonds And Stones. It kicks off with the dark and forbidding “Strange Things”, based around a grinding riff that sounds like a distant cousin to The Beatles’s “Come Together” and a drum sound that could have been sampled from John Hammond Jr’s Wicked Grin album. So it is something of a surprise to discover the band is actually only a trio, comprising Jake Lear on guitar and vocals, Roy Cunningham on drums, and Carlos Arias on bass.

The production throughout the album, by Jake and Rafael Yglesias, is almost muddy, which is not intended as a criticism, because it is also massive. The album has a very “live” feel, like something that has been cut in one sitting, with minimal overdubs, and the heat of summer oozing through the walls of the recording studio. You can almost sense the sweat of the musicians. It is easy to imagine that this is exactly how they sound playing outside People’s Pool Hall on Beale Street on Friday and Saturday nights.

There are 10 songs on the album, eight of which were written by Lear. The two covers are the traditional folk song “Jack O Diamonds”, which is given an electric updating via John Lee Hooker’s acoustic version, and Junior Wells’s “Work, Work, Work”, which sounds like it is being covered by the Yardbirds trying to sound like Jimmy Reed, but with modern recording technology.

There are no ballads on the album, no breakneck rockers and no guest instruments to add variety to the drums/bass/electric guitar formula. Instead, all 10 songs hit a mid-paced groove that gets your foot tapping and in a live environment would no doubt get people dancing within a couple of songs. It would be interesting to hear the band explore a wider range of moods, but that may be something to consider for future releases.

Lear’s voice is mixed quite low on the recording, which often suits the tone of the songs but it can sometimes be frustrating because his weary vocals aren’t the easiest to decipher. He can certainly play fine guitar, however, with feeling placed above precision. To this reviewer’s ear, influences likely include Mason Ruffner, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bob Dylan and John Campbell.

The musicianship throughout from all three band members is impressive, with nobody over-playing and the focus on groove rather than the number of notes that can be squeezed into each song. This is particularly true of the minor-key “I See A Train A Comin’”, with Lear’s poignant, heartfelt mini-solos between each verse. The closing two songs have the feel of pieces the band would be asked to play by the tourists on Beale Street. “Quit You” has an upbeat, smoky, Texas groove that one might hear from SRV or Smokin’ Joe Kubek, while album closer “Boogie Time” is a ripping instrumental that feels like Jake felt he needed to prove he can play fast and fluid as well as tasty and tuneful. There is no need as the underplaying on the earlier songs is more than demonstration enough of his skills. It does sound like a fun song to play, however.

If you enjoy the blues-rock of early ZZ Top, Chris Duarte or even George Thorogood, you should definitely check out Jake Lear.!

Reviewer Rhys Williams is an amateur blues musician who lives in England. Heavily influenced by Muddy Waters, Albert Collins, Steve Cropper and Roy Buchanan, he plays Stratocasters almost exclusively.

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