Solid Blues Records [Release date 02.06.17]
Award winning Canadian blues-rock guitarist JW-Jones ditches most of the rock elements to ingratiate himself with the industry hotbed that is Nashville. ‘High Temperature’ showcases a handful of good songs that have one eye on the radio and are bolstered by some fine guitar playing.
Just where it will fit in the current blues-rock market is a hard one to call, though suffice it to say that any song-driven album will always find a home in Nashville.
‘High Temperature’ wisely sticks to a mid-paced, song focused format well suited to JW’s middling vocals and judicious tone colours.
He tops and tails the album with some sparkling guitar work on the bluesy groove of ‘Price You Pay’ and a blistering finale when he gets his Lonnie Mack chops together on a cover of ‘Wham’
In truth, for a high energy performer this is a laid back album with understated vocals and a soulful undertow. He’s happiest when he leans into a groove as on the catchy mid-tempo funk of ‘How Many Hearts’, which breaks new ground on a duet with the Jaida Dreyer who penned the song. It veers smoothly towards a call and response section, but slightly disappoints with a rather hurried ending.
The title track is a good example of the way he pulls together contrasting styles. It starts out as a workaday stop-time shuffle, but as the band stretches out, he indulges himself in an extended and intense solo full of spiky notes that takes the song up a notch.
And if that song has great potential as a live number, then the later ‘Out In The Woods’ confirms his abilities, as he jams on a laid back groove with some steely licks over a lilting rhythm section. All the more frustrating then, when the fade some comes just a shade too early.
For the rest, there’s the faux chanted hook of ‘Murder in My Heart For The Judge’, notable for some intense licks on an otherwise prosaic piece. The autobiographical and tightly wrapped, Who Am I’, is much better, with crisp, resonating notes and a greater vocal urgency with pristine diction.
He wisely opts for additional bv’s on ‘Same Mistakes’ to bring some heft to the vocals, alongside a sudden burst of big toned guitar and an uplifting organ break.
As he sings: ‘Who I am, is who I am’, you can’t help but think that he’s making a statement about his musical independence. Put simply, ‘High Temperature’ is a misleading album title, as it gently beguiles us with engaging songs and bubbles up through deep grooves and some intricate guitar work.
JW’s song writing collaboration with fellow Canadian Dick Cooper has a way to go. The duo are nothing if not ambitious, shifting from their bluesy roots template to a country influenced ballad on ‘Leave Me Out’. The doubled up harmonies make an unexpected impression on a slow burner with tremulous slide guitar touches.
If blues and country are significant influences here, so is white boy soul, as evidenced by the falsetto on ‘Already Know’. It neatly taps into the contemporary soul sound that has such significant hold on Nashville at the moment.
It’s this willingness to explore different musical strands and occasionally step out of his vocal comfort zone that gives ‘High Temperature’ a welcome left field approach.
The more you play it, the more his vocal phrasing and guitar licks stick in the mind. The question is whether a listener already saturated with such MOR albums has the patience to dig deep and find the treasure. ***
Review by Pete Feenstra
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