Many years ago the musical landscape was altered irrevocably by a skinny kid who sang songs based on both folk and blues while accompanying himself on guitar and harmonica. The world's a vastly different place today, and it's doubtful that J. L. Stiles will have quite the same impact - if nothing else, he's not likely to receive much airplay in a social climate dominated by disposable pop and driven by relentless consumerism.
More's the pity, 'cause while Mr. Stiles may not be as lyrically obtuse as Mr. Dylan, he's got much the same sense of social conscience, an anger that seems not so much for the way things are as it is for they way they aren't. And he shares a bit of the Bard's wistful romanticism in places, tempered, like Bob's, with a weary resignation, most evident in his vocals; there seems an underlying melancholy to almost everything he sings here.
While J. L.'s guitar work borrows from the rhythmic drive of blues, he generally favours more complex figures, fitting given that most of his tunes are more melodic than the average twelve-bar. There are only a couple of overdubs on the disc (tambourine one cut, a bit of harmony on another), yet J. L.'s picking is deft enough that I checked twice, first to see if he had an accompanist, then to see if he hadn't multi-tracked himself. Nope . . . aside from the exceptions noted above, everything was cut in a single take, 'live' off the floor.
His fretwork shimmers through the Beatle-esque pop of "Slow Rider," jangles on the sixties-folk influenced "Make Your Own Day"; there's even a hint of flamenco in some of the riffs he tosses off in "Nothin' Here For Me." Purists will likely find the most satisfaction in "You Missed It Man" and "Trouble All My Days," the two tracks that close the disc. But I'd be surprised if anyone who cares for the emotional honesty and forthright sincerity of the blues doesn't like everything that comes before; like John Hiatt's recent all-acoustic masterwork, "Crossing Muddy Waters," J. L. Stiles has managed to infuse everything with a bluesy sensibility, ultimately both encompassing and expanding on the genre.
All in all this is an excellent outing, J. L.'s fretwork more than adequate to keep things rhythmically interesting while his thought-provoking lyrics provide lots to chew on. Highly recommended!
Phone: (415) 563-0926
Web : www.jlstiles.com
Simply click on the CD cover at left to order other CDs by J.L. Stiles!
This review is copyright © 2002 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.