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JW-Jones - Midnight Memphis Sun
12 tracks; 48:34 minutes; Suggested
Styles: Modern Electric Blues, Chicago Blues, Memphis Soul-Blues
What is more important: the song or the singer? Well, which will last longer? Musicians and singers will come and go, but the song will stay with us, maybe forever. For example, sixteen year old Jay Gaunt recorded “Greensleeves” that goes back to 1580.
JW-Jones is also a youthful Blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter who always, refreshingly, puts the needs of the song first. Born in Ottawa in 1981, he was only eighteen when he won a hometown competition called the Blues Guitar Riff-Off in 1999.
“Midnight Memphis Sun" is JW-Jones’s sixth album to date and his first for Ruf Records. It consists of twelve enjoyable and varied tracks of which Jones co-wrote eight (with non related partner Tim Wynne-Jones), and the other four cover legends like Lowell Fulson and Jimmy Reed. Technically, there are two CD sets with two different bands here.
Seven tracks were recorded at the famous Memphis Sun Studios, hence the album title. Like Jones’s past CDs which included world-class musicians, three Memphis songs feature guest star Hubert Sumlin (guitar), and two of the Memphis cuts feature Charlie Musselwhite (harmonica). The backup band includes Larry Taylor on bass and Richard Innes on drums. Adding heavy grooves on keyboards for both bands is Jesse Whiteley.
Five songs were recorded at “J-Dub’s House, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada” with Jones’s regular working band: Jeff Asselin (drums) and Martin Régimbald (bass) plus aforementioned Whiteley. Musselwhite’s harp also guests on one of these tracks.
First aired on the “Friends of the Blues Radio Show” was an original, “Born Operator,” with a topic, thankfully, relevant and other than the love and money clichés. Opening with guitar clearly influenced by Magic Sam Maghett, “Born Operator” mentions how greed is actually an addiction as it scolds the likes of Bernie Madoff and their painful and suicide-causing Ponzi schemes. Hubert Sumlin makes his first appearance soloing and trading licks at mid-song. The best pairing of Sumlin and Jones, however, is found in the instrumental “Howlin’ with Hubert” with its title alluding to Sumlin’s long time band leader, Howlin’ Wolf.
Future airings will include Sonny Terry’s and Brownie McGhee’s “Burnt Child” which opens with Charlie Musselwhite’s harp. Charlie’s harp work is not the central focus; it just fits perfectly into this classic Chicago Blues ensemble approach. More of that style is found in Jimmy Reed’s “I Don’t Go for That,” again with Musselwhite.
When pacing calls for a slow Blues number, the Jones’ original “Mean Streak” is perfect. Here, Jones uses his still young sounding vocals to relate the meat of the song and keeps the guitar understated. Even the guitar solo is a plodding series of single notes instead of the typical shredded rave-up at three-quarters in.
An unexpected song is a cover of Bryan Adam’s “Cuts Like A Knife,” originally a pop radio rocker, but here an up tempo shuffle that fits well. For a fine nod to Buddy Guy staccato guitar playing, check Jones’ original “Make a Move.”
When an artist under 30 is this dedicated to recording songs correctly, honoring masters, and creating new works clearly within the idiom, there is no doubt the future of the Blues is assured.
Reviewer James "Skyy Dobro" Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ, Master of Ceremonies, and longtime Blues Blast Magazine contributor. His weekly radio show "Friends of the Blues" can be heard Saturdays 8 pm - Midnight on WKCC 91.1 FM and at www.wkccradio.org in Kankakee, IL. To See James “Skyy Dobro” Walker's CD rating system, CLICK HERE
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