By Chris Wheatley
Hailing from Portland, Oregon, swamp-blues/roots artist, guitarist, singer and songwriter Lloyd Jones already has six critically acclaimed albums under his belt. Tennessee Run, his seventh, hits the virtual and physical shelves this September 18th on the VizzTone Label Group.
Jones describes his music as “combining New Orleans rhythms, the simplicity of Memphis music, and the rawness of the blues, all for the 21st century.” This is a player whose artistic journey includes touring with legends such as Earl King, Charlie Musselwhite, Big Mama Thornton, Otis Clay, Etta James and Albert Collins. Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Joe Louis Walker and Curtis Salgado have all covered Jones’ songs. That’s some résumé and, given that Tennessee Run features fourteen Jones originals recorded in Nashville utilizing top Music City players, it’s hard not get excited. I’m pleased to say that this album does not disappoint.
The inspiration for Tennessee Waltz came from multi-instrumentalist Delbert McClinton’s “Sandy Beaches” Cruise; a terrific-sounding enterprise, which marries the luxury liner experience to dozens of live shows from blues and roots performers. McClinton himself guests on the album, as does singer Teresa James (whose previous work includes collaborations with Walter Trout and Randy Newman) and keyboardist/producer Kevin McKendree (Brian Setzer, George Benson and others).
Opener “You Got Me Good” lives up to Jones’ self-description. Simple, buzzing horn-lines (Jones is surely cognizant of the stirring backbone which the Memphis Horns gave to so many classic Stax releases) set fire to this up-tempo bouncing rocker which buzzes and sways like an Otis Redding special. The New Orleans bayou vibe is surely here also, bubbling under and sending smoking tendrils of swamp gas to sweat through the track. Fans of James Brown’s early work with the Famous Flames will likewise find much to admire. A jumping, intense energy grips hold of the listener from the get-go.
Jones also delivers on the blues front. Tracks such as “I Wish I Could Remember Loving You” blaze with a raw barrelhouse feel. Honky-tonk piano rattles around snaking, muscular guitar riffs and chops. Drums conjure a shuffling, saw-dust beat. This record may display the polish and poise of Nashville, but look down and there is indeed Tennessee mud on its boots. The delightful “Where’s My Phone?” steers into down-town funk, wittily updating the blues woes into a very modern tale, which surely everyone will appreciate and relate to. The arrangement is wonderful; horns skip infectiously from ear to ear, percussion rattles around your skull and some subtle, contemporary tricks and electronic manipulation bring a smile without ever overstaying their welcome.
The party theme continues with “Bayou Boys.” Swaying New Orleans rhythms clang, clatter and get right down into your soul, urging you up on to your feet. This is an old-time foot shuffler with a modern Nuyorican feel, clean production and a serious amount of good-natured swagger. Throughout Tennessee Waltz, it is clear that the assembled players are having a ball. Some gorgeously strutting instrumental breaks pour out of the speakers and there’s a bit of everything to enjoy. “Turn Me Loose,” could be a 50s Elvis hit. It rocks and rolls with stabbing horns and a succinct, chopping guitar solo. Much of the joy from this record stems from its grab-bag approach. In the grand “Big Easy” tradition, different styles and moods are thrown together, mixed up with love and served as a delicious and spicy stew of musical expression.
Jones’ style has been described as “Swampified American Roots,” and the music here delivers just that; a generous fourteen portions of hot Americana served up with joy. From jump-shouters and Cajun-inflected dance to vintage rock ‘n roll and Southern blues, it’s all here. It’s much to Jones’ (and the band’s) credit that it all feels fresh and new. There’s a lot to love here. The musicianship is top-class, Jones’ songs are instantly memorable. Pick up a copy and you won’t be disappointed.
Watch “Where’s My Phone”
Pre-order Tennessee Run
Lloyd Jones Online