This album opens with a very early 70’s riff driven feel. And the sense of that era is further compounded by Jony James’s voice which UK fans might immediately identify as being a cross between Mick Pini and Peter Green. Jony conjures up an aura of fragility and world weariness by turns. But his songs are emotive enough to draw you into 9 cuts that mix eclecticism and mysticism, but burn deep with the blues.
The Peter Green reference is also apparent on Jony’s more circumspect playing as on the intro to the soulful ‘Still Love You’ and is further writ large on the slide led ‘Going Down This Road’ which goes right back to early Fleetwood Mac days. Interestingly, Jony James adds a ‘Blind Owl’ Wilson style falsetto and then mid-song he changes guitars and transforms some down home dobro playing into stinging rock-blues lead guitar. Clearly this is a man who dabbles in the light and shade of his blues but is also fastidious about the way in which he plays them.
One thing that remains constant is his soulful croak of a voice, which sounds like the product of a whisky and smoke filled bars. But there’s an undeniable evocative sense of phrasing and delivery that all too few blues performers are capable of.
On the aptly tilted ‘Tragic Magic’, his voice teeters on the brink, but his lovely sense of dynamics - juxtaposing a single vibrato note with some delicately chosen spaced out notes - brings real presence to another slow blues. The solo is from outer space, unhurried, full of yearning and making use of a single note with a flutter of a string bend. Yeah, this is the blues and Jony’s got ‘em bad. He’s got them good as well and he plays them like no one else I’ve heard this side the late Nick Drake, and he was a folkie!!
On ‘You & Me (Like A Rose)’ he almost tempers his love story with a call to faith. But it’s a personal heartfelt spiritual moment rather than the usual call to various gods. This is a man who can match his love torn lyrics with the beautiful wail of his guitar. Everything hangs on the resonance of each tone colour, just in the same way as you wait for the end of one of his vocal phrases just to see if he’s going to make it.
‘What About Tomorrow’ is not an album without its faults. Indeed there are a few shaky moments such as on the meandering ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ approach of ‘One of Those Days’. The startlingly aggressive grungy tone opening isn’t quite matched by the songs structure. The neat double tracking of the guitars turn out to be an interesting diversion, but the loud/quiet dichotomy seems to be just another idea in the works rather than an essential part of the song. It’s the kind of song where any sense of chorus is used as a tension resolution and the repeated outro although very effective bears little relation to what has gone before. But hey, for this listener it’s a pay off, because this is a guy who buries he jewels deep and for the most part the best bits are nearly always worth the wait.
If you approach this album along the lines of the Zappa defined project/object with recurring themes and repeated themes and phrases, you might get close to Jony's oeuvre, except Jony repeats come in the little quiet moments of refection on his guitar and via the unwavering fragility of his voice.
For this is the blues but not as some of you know it! Both Jony’s playing and singing, let alone some of his song structures seem dependent on a sense of free fall, before his ideas are suddenly ignited by a creative or emotive spark. The lines of the title track ‘What About Tomorrow’ for example, are almost delivered as a mantra either side of a vaguely eastern intro and outro and the whole thing is resolved in a wave of cymbal splashes and psychedelic guitar.
Engineered by Kim Simmons who knows a thing or two about guitars and intuitively produced by Greg Spencer - who also contributes telling liner notes, - Jony James is an essential artist who deserves further exploration if only for his unique heartfelt style that is to often lost in the shuffle of corporate design. ‘What About Tomorrow’ is the blues but its close up and personal and demands repeated listens.