I don't normally give too much stock to the promotional materials that come with new releases, lest I think every artist be the second coming of Robert Johnson or Muddy. In this case though--at least for starters--I think the materials are reasonably accurate when they state: "J.L. Stiles has the melodic sense of John Lennon with the grit of Howlin' Wolf. He often sounds as if he went back in time and branched off in a new and refreshing direction from the old folk and blues performers like John Hurt and Jimmy Reed. Perhaps the music seeped into his blood while sharing gumbo with Fats Domino during his five-year stint in New Orleans." Depending on the cut, I can sometimes hear a Mardi Gras parade, Ray & Glover, Leo Kottke (must be the harmonica and 12-string in those instances), Leon Redbone and maybe even Satan and Adam or a touch of rockabilly.
As you would surmise form the above, it is difficult to categorize the 29 year old J.L. Stiles (no relation to Ray, by the way). While there is a significant blues influence in many of the tunes, there is at least as much folk and rock orientation.
The San Francisco based Stiles performs all guitars (acoustic & electric), harmonica and lead vocals. He plays twelve string guitar on three of the eleven cuts. Four of the cuts are Stiles by himself (sometimes playing harmonica as well guitar). Jimmy Sanches plays drums and Paul Olguin bass on the other seven. Two of the cuts include a tastefully done saxophone by David Boyce which gives those tunes a funky edge. Stiles appears to have composed all of the songs. The lyrics and music blend well. Even though the material flirts with several genres, all of the tunes work well (although a couple sound somewhat familiar). The production is crisp and clear, the mix well balanced. The vocals are solid throughout. While often quite fundamental, the instrumentation is well done. There's a little something here for everyone.
The release is thirty seven minutes long. The cuts are: He Didn't Even Know It; Impure World; The Mainstream; Ooh Wee Baby; Sanctuary; Continuum; The Difference; JBS II; Believe In Love; Ain't Never Gonna Make It; and Angels Laid Him Away. It is available by calling (415) 457-9080.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Mark Halverson, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.