Ruf [Release date 13.04.15]
Laurence answers his own question on ‘What’s It Gonna Be’ by filling his own blank canvas with heartfelt, meaningful songs fleshed out with an impressive variety of harmony vocals, burning solos and tight ensemble playing that consistently plays to his strengths.
‘What’s It Gonna Be’ is a mature album cut by a cross generational band who bring road tested chops to bear on Laurence’s impressive song writing and who know when to nail a groove, when to rock out and when to hang back..
Bass player Roger Inniss’s co-production mirrors both the band’s DNA and Laurence’s vision of the songs, while engineer Piers Mortimer must have spent some considerable time working on Laurence vocal textures and guitar tones.
The result is a vibrant album full of snap, vim and vigour that bristles with high quality songs and high intensity playing.
There’s telepathic interplay, burning solos and booming hooks, while Laurence explanatory liner notes reflect the kind of lyrical depth and self confidence that made ‘Thunder in the Sky’ such a refreshing debut and ‘Temptation’ a confirmation of his talent.
‘What’s It Gonna Be’ is a noticeable step up in terms of the songs and his vocals. It’s a landmark album for the 22 year old who has added introspection to his song writing armoury, but as a song writing device rather than as a self obsessed Emo rocker.
10 of the 11 tracks really do feel as if they fit together like an old fashioned album, with only the crossover attempt of Bad Company’s ‘Cant Get Enough’ feeling like a shoe-in.
The latter is played too straight and doesn’t have the swagger of the original, which is curious given it features firebrand guest Dana Fuchs. It doesn’t sound as if the two cut the track together and as a result it lacks spark.
But no matter, it’s a minor disappointment on an otherwise outstanding album which serves notice that Laurence Jones is one of the leading young blues-rock artists of his generation. He also has enough professional to pay special attention to his vocals which are noticeably better here than on his previous two albums.
The combination of vocal variety and judicious sequencing gives the album an essential flow. The production emphasizes the melodies and brings clarity to the solos while capturing the band’s natural exuberance in the unforgiving dead time of the studio.
Bass player Roger Inniss and drummer Miri Miettinen mix unrelenting drive with subtle elements of light and shade to push Laurence to the top of his game.
Listen to the way the trio gently drops down on ‘Evil’ and then eloquently rebuilds the groove and works towards a perfectly synchronized descending finish. But they rise again on a coda, which Laurence fills with a blistering solo on the outro. It’s only the third number on the album but it’s the perfect example of how well the band gel together.
Laurence joins Sandi Thom on the radio friendly, philosophical ballad ‘Don’t Look Back’.
‘Don’t look back with regret, don’t look back on the things you do. Don’t look back at yesterday, ‘cos one day you’ll look back too many times, and he’ll be looking right back at you!’
His close to the mic, semi-whispered phrasing and deft use of tremolo is a very effective foil for Sandi’s retort, as the duo coalesces seamlessly on the sing-along hook.
It’s a great example of Laurence’s nascent songcraft. He’s a young song writer dealing with issues beyond his years but he tackles them with real maturity.
The opening title track sets the standard for a bunch of thematically enquiring songs, on a riff driven piece with a warm enveloping vocal style that colours much of this engaging album, before he adds a defining solo.
He toughens up his vocal to convey his feelings on ‘Don’t Need No Reason’ before letting his guitar playing evoke his emotions, while he rocks out on ‘Touch of Moonlight’ complete with catchy ‘ooh oohs’, double tracked guitars, and a lovely stuttering drum pattern that shapes the track.
It’s the kind of song that you can imagine was spawned at a sound check and brought into the studio, where they promptly ripped into it with the kind of fervour normally reserved for a live gig!!
By the time of ‘All I Need’, LJ surprises us with a heartfelt soulful song which is big on melody and features another surprisingly mellow vocal that draws the listener in and perfectly evokes the lyrical feel.
He opens himself emotionally on the poignant ‘Being Alone’ as the rhythm section nails a kick ass groove. And then deep into album comes an unexpected curve ball with a sample of Ledbelly which segues into Laurence’s reworking of ‘Good Morning Blues’. It’s a riff driven rocker with a tough vocal, and a shriller tone.
The idea of a 22 year of fledgling blues rocker taking on a traditional blues song like this might invite scepticism, but it’s a measure of Laurence’s hard earned gravitas and the consistently admirable support of his rhythm section that he pulls it off.
There’s even room for a libertarian political message on ‘Set It Free’, on an unlikely meeting of the vocal harmonies of America with Knopler and Wishbone Ash style melodic guitars.
It’s one of Laurence best songs that combines inspirational guitar with pristine harmony vocals and a mellifluous production to strike a perfect balance between the melody and the band’s energetic drive.
Each track feels like a miniature chapter in a book, mapping a linear flow that naturally levers us into the humorously titled rocker ‘Stop Moving the House’, on which the band rocks out exuberantly alongside Jools Crudgings on piano.
It’s a celebratory musical finish to a cracking album that fully justifies the current optimism being shovelled at the new generation of Brit blues rockers.
If it’s not quite a perfect album, it’s close enough for the blues to give it the full 5 out of 5! *****
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 19:00
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