At first glance it may seem an odd mix . . . a veteran bluesman, a producer/guitarist who's forged a unique and distinctive "Nashville sound" (one that has nothing to do with horses or hats, though there's hurtin' indeed to be found), and a fledgling label based in Toronto.
Look a little deeper, though, and it all makes perfect sense . . .
Fred Litwin, owner of the label in question, has established a reputation for taking chances on artists who aren't exactly mainstream, giving each free rein to realize their personal musical vision. As a result his catalogue is both eclectic and exemplary. Fred James, producer/guitarist extraordinaire, has battled indifference and the Nashville establishment to carve out a niche for himself, largely backing overlooked figures while shining a long-overdue spotlight on their considerable musical talents. Then there's Johnny Jones. Blessed with a voice that treads that thin line between silky smooth and whiskey-raw (and capable of taking it either way at will), he has an innate sense of timing that makes every line he carresses seem as natural as breathing. Coupled with stinging, economical single-note leads (Johnny never, ever wastes a note!), the effect is more smolder than burn, more comfortable afterglow rather than frenzied foreplay.
That's not to say that energy is in short supply here, just that it's applied judiciously, intelligently, as befits someone of Johnny's experience. Grooves are both sinuous and slinky, augmented by staccato bursts from a brassy horn section and powered by greasy bass lines that simply ooze funk. The mighty B3 fills any gaps as only a Hammond can, leaving no doubt abouth the project's urban origins; Johnny's passions may be down to earth, but the sound says uptown.
Material here is equally timeless and topical; for every truism regarding the eternal differences and difficulties inherent in relationships, Johnny throws in a surprise or two. In "Girlfriend Blues" he reveals that "my girlfriend's got a girlfriend too"; in "A Rock and A Hard Case," what first seems a heartfelt tribute to "the rock that I lean on" quickly changes focus when Johnny reveals a conflicting attraction for an entirely different sort of lover. There's no shortage of the salacious (guess what "Stacked in the Back" is all about!), but the best line of all comes in the wryly humourous "Good Idea At The Time," where Johnny sings "They turned the blues into a theme park."
Bottom line? Despite the seeming disparity, the elements that make up "Blues Is In The House" are perfect match . . .artistic freedom thanks to Northern Blues, supple and sensitive support courtesy of Mr. James, and the soulful passion of Johnny Jones. Johnny's blues belong in your house too . . . get this one!
NorthernBlues Music, Inc.
225 Sterling Road, Unit 19
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Web : www.northernblues.com
This review is copyright © 2001 by John Taylor, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.