CD Baby [Release date 14.06.16]
Jon Herington is best known as the guitarist in Steely Dan for the last 16 years, yet he’s also managed to carve out his own solo career that stretches back to 1992.
‘Adult Entertainment’ – his first studio album for four years – is the most song driven album of his career. It’s a tip of the hat to those golden days of radio when it wouldn’t be uncommon to hear rock, blues, jazz, Motown and country all on the same show. And just to underline his playful sense of the eclectic he combines a reggae back beat and Hawaiian sounding guitar with special guest Fred Owens’ Coasters style low vocal accompaniment on ‘Gimme Some Green’.
It’s not so much Herington’s signature guitar style that hangs this album together as the strength of the songs and several lyrical turns that draw the listener into contrasting musical genres.
It’s an organic sounding album apparently moulded, shaped and refined by a self-production that appears unconstrained by the stop watch.
When it comes to his influences, Herington also dines at the highest table. You can hear Beatles style bv’s on ‘Doctor’s Orders’ and an ‘Abbey Road’-era guitar break on the humorous ‘Blacklisted In Bougieville’.
There’s also echoes of The Stones with an additional Neil Young guitar line on ‘Slaughtered By Love’ and he frequently evokes Tom Petty with his vocal phrasing, jangling guitars, slick harmonies and sharp hooks, as on the cryptic opener ‘Mind Over Matter’, the very catchy ‘No Way No How, Not Me’ and the guitar-driven ‘Out On A Limb’.
Given his ‘day job’ with Steely Dan, there’s surprisingly only a few fleeting Dan influences, most obviously on the soulful groove of ‘Handle With Care’, complete with Herington in falsetto mode, and also in the rhythmic precision of ‘Blacklisted In Bougieville’, before it rushes into a manic chorus.
While the Dan influences may be rationed, you can still imagine their fans being drawn to Herington’s mix of lyrical humour, taut arrangements and the subtle musical tension releases over 12 track composite that feels like an old fashioned 12 inch vinyl.
Unlike his previous guitar driven ‘Time On My Hands’, Herington’s guitar playing is interwoven into the patchwork quilt of a song driven album that happily aligns itself with contemporary Nashville values.
His lyrics straddle ironic and humorous tinged narratives, while his cool sonic choices are reflected in contrasting guitar parts, significant bv’s and an energetic band feel that is captured in several catchy hooks.
‘Adult Entertainment’ is an album that the younger Herington might not have been able to make. The tracks are informed by experience and the wry lyrics are the stuff of a life lived to the full, which perhaps partly explains the album title.
Above all, ‘Adult Entertainment’ is the result of Herington’s own nascent songcraft and his growing writing and production collaboration with Dennis Espantman. His thoughtful guitar playing and the understated production serve to illuminate the album highlights, while still managing to maintain a live band feel.
For a guitarist known for his immersing himself in the depths of jazz, he perhaps surprisingly reveals his love for 60′s pop. And ‘Adult Entertainment’s strength is the way it contemporizes those retro influences.
The album’s sequencing for example, pulls us from one genre to another without apparently veering off track, meaning that when he does throw in a few unexpected curve balls, such as a brace of country tunes, the unexpected musical direction sounds more organic than a rupture.
Even the plaintive, straight ahead country song ‘Can I Get A Volunteer’ sounds an integral part of the whole, while Frank Pagano’s gentle brush strokes and Jim Beard’s opening organ line gives ‘Crazy Good’ its lightness of touch and percussive feel, before it heads for a Jackson Browne style hook.
The versatility of the project is further highlighted by the arrangement of ‘Broken & Blue’ which cleverly nuances the song’s lyrical pathos, and adds a mid-70′s, 10cc style vocal.
‘Adult Entertainment’ beguiles, sparkles and ultimately lives up to its name. It’s a consistently good album with a handful of outstanding cuts such as ‘Mind Over Matter’, ‘No Way No How, Not Me’, ‘Blacklisted In Bougieville’ and ‘Little Big Shot’ – complete with a magical Theremin sounding opening Moog sweep – that collectively offers him real playlist potential.
The fact that a disparate set of songs hang together as a coherent whole offers Jon Herington a portal to an altogether bigger ‘Adult Entertainment’ market.
This is an album on which a master guitarist/session player has broadened his musical palate to become an accomplished songsmith with his own band. Somewhere in between his ongoing commitments to Steely Dan he’s forged his own impressive solo career and ‘Adult Entertainment’ is a notable landmark of his progress. ****½
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 20:00
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