By Martine Ehrenclou
The Back Burner by the incredibly talented Jamey Arent, out July 19th, is one of those EPs that demand peak volume on a quality sound system. Arent is not only a master of guitar, he is a master of groove. And all six tunes, a blend of guitar-driven blues, funk, jazz and rock, are stellar–not just the musicianship but the songs themselves.
Guitarist, songwriter, singer Jamey Arent is based in Los Angeles but his guitar chops have taken him all over the world as a sideman, touring and recording with artists like Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Matthew Morrison, Grammy nominee B. Slade, Nigel Hall and Raquel Rodriguez. His guitar work can be heard backing Smokey Robinson and Trombone Shorty on soundtracks for the Netflix series Motown Magic, on TBS, and Comedy Central shows.
Having studied at Oberlin and earning a master’s degree in studio/jazz at USC Thornton School of Music, you’d expect some of the best musicianship on Arent’s debut EP. And you get it. But because the songs are also good, you know something else is going on.
Produced by renowned guitarist/producer Josh Smith, The Back Burner also features a variety of outstanding musicians including Nigel Hall (Lettuce, Soulive) Charles Jones (Raphael Saadiq, Andra Day, Vulfpeck), Amber Navran (Moonchild), Spencer Day and singer Raquel Rodriguez.
Title track “The Back Burner” is the first to lure you in, a contemporary jazz-funk fusion instrumental with plenty of groove. It’s a daring move to start off with an instrumental, but Arent pulls it off and then some with his stellar and melodic guitar riffs that never stray from the band as a unit. Besides the tune is catchy with great rhythm. Looking for a mood lift? This is it.
Another standout “How Far We’ve Come” featuries R&B/soul singer, Raquel Rodriguez. The song has a 70’s funky vibe but with a modern jazz-fusion twist. Rodriguez’ voice graces this breezy tune with soulfulness, a bit of sultry and some kind of vocal phrasing. She’s on it. As is Jamey Arent with his tasty guitar riffs that are both inventive and melodic. A complete horn section (sax, trombone, trumpet) punches up the track, which paves the way to a short but savage guitar riff and solo by Arent. He and the band are grooving.
The Back Burner isn’t just funky jazz fusion. There are some smooth rock tunes, blues and more, all musically dynamic, with some of the tightest musicianship I’ve heard in a while. Sounds to me like they rehearsed some of the funky numbers more than a few times to get such a compact sound, or all the musicians involved are just that good and they nailed it in one or two takes. Given Jamey Arent’s skills, and with Josh Smith at the helm, that might just be the case.
The tone shifts with “Castle Green” a stunning jazz instrumental with flavors of blues and rock. The melody is beautiful and reminds me a bit of a couple of Tommy Emmanuel’s instrumental guitar melodies. But Arent has a distinct sound and style all his own–his songs are modern, with hints of Mark Knopfler and Stanley Jordan. This track certainly showcases Arent as a soulful, virtuoso guitar player with plenty of feel. The track is artfully performed by him and the band, featuring guitar overlays and a lovely organ solo. With Arent digging in on guitar as the song builds with some blues and rock overtones, he then dials it back to the verse.
And yet another shift in direction for the EP, Arent roars in with a catchy blues number, “Find My Blues.” He takes the lead vocally on this one, and his voice is smooth, soulful. Hard not to be overshadowed by such stunning guitar playing, but he carves his vocal path around riffs and solos performed with grit and muscle. Another great song. Well-crafted and well played.
Closing the EP, “Stay For the Night” is a fluid rock tune with a Mark Knopfler feel. About a love interest with the possibility of a shared night, it has a bit of a haunting melody. His guitar solo on this one is superb, tuneful and moving. Once again, beautiful.
An impressive debut from a gifted guitarist, songwriter and musician. I look forward to more from Jamey Arent.
For more information on The Back Burner by Jamey Arent: