Busy B [Release date: 05.05.17]
‘Rough Round The Edges’ is an impressive debut album with plenty of depth. It’s born of 11 strong and original tracks that jump out the grooves on the back of emotive vocals and fine band interplay, topped by tasteful solos.
The album title probably carries more truth than the band would like, but not in a negative way. They tread a thin line between pursuing original songcraft with a live in the studio approach that gives them their edge and drive.
They start with a bang, as heartfelt vocalist and principal songwriter Chris Elliott illuminates his poignant lyrics on the stop-time chorus of ‘St. Joseph’. The hook draws the listener into a classic opening track that sets the standard for so much good stuff
The liner notes also help the listener get inside an album full of songs in the old sense of the word. The composite is given its edge by an analogue approach to recording, which apparently extended to nailing everything in barely 5 days.
The key to the band’s refreshing music is the head-on meeting of contemporary values – up to date material with a modern singer-songwriter approach – with the old school values of excellent musicianship and a sonic brightness.
‘Rough Round The Edges’ does indeed sound like the product of a live band stretching their material the limit. This is especially so on the anthemic hook of ‘Shadowlands’, which benefits from an uplifting bridge before guitarist Iago Banet glues it all together with a defining solo.
They slip into some languid swing on ‘Can’t Tell The Truth’, on which Jim Darby’s earthy harp solo is mixed a shade too far back, a fact emphasized by the brief, but potent following slide guitar line.
No matter, it’s the kind of laid back after hours groove that only a hugely confident band would drop in at track three.
The beautifully crafted ‘If You Change Your Mind’ is an exercise in subtle dynamics. The stripped down meeting of voice and words is bolstered by subtle band support, as the number gently builds to a melodic guitar solo that adds to the song’s feel rather than dominates it.
The album’s sequencing draw us into a free flowing equilibrium on the back of the sculpted wah-wah reggae feel of ‘Shed A Light’ and the following second line instrumental link ‘NOLA (Gimme The Funk)’.
The latter brings unexpected diversity and a tension building mid-set lift. The band duly resolves this with a Faces style opening of ‘I Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll’. It’s the only time where a lack of a bigger vocal range holds back the quintet’s natural bluster.
‘Road Again’ is one of only 2 tracks on which they reveal some retro influences. It opens as a hard driving guitar-led piece with a significant organ sweep. They make the most of an overly familiar title, predicated on a muscular Andy Fraser (Free) style bass line. In contrast, the more tentative ‘Away From Me’ recalls early Canned Heat, while Elliot’s vocal evokes the late Al Wilson.
JFK Blue work hard to shape their own musical direction. They move from moments of focussed intensity to ebullient inspiration, as on the sudden shift from a gentle funk workout to a jazzy keyboard vamp on ‘Don’t Cry For Me’.
It’s the moment when the band finally cut loose and reveal their chops. They cleverly find their way back to base in a manner that would make Jerry Garcia and Warren Haynes fans smile.
They finish with the old school, self explanatory titled ‘Having A Real Good Time’, on which co-writer and keyboard player Paul Blount and guitarist Banet’s studied lines are underpinned by the nuanced rhythm section of bassist Leslie Fleischman and drummer Sol Ezra.
‘Rough Round the Edges’ is an organic triumph over space, time and probably budget. Given that it’s a song driven project rooted in the blues but never restricted by it, you suspect the band wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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