A Canadian singer-songwriter, JW Jones very nearly passed me by thanks to a large pile of CDs and not nearly enough time in the day. Happily, chance brought the CD to the top of the pile and oh my, am I glad it did! ‘High temperature’ follows on from the Juno nominated ‘Belmont Boulevard’ and it sees JW working with Nashville-based producer Colin Linden. Himself the recipient of the much-coveted Juno award (eight times, in fact), Colin gives JW a rich, analogue sound that is the perfect match for the beautifully arranged and gloriously varied songs that make up the album.
From the moment the album kicks into gear with ‘price you pay’, the listener is transported back to those halcyon days when the Rolling Stones ruled the airwaves and when good time boogie and hard-hitting blues collided under the auspices of Neil Young, Stephen Stills (who has recently revived exactly that sound with The Rides) and Eric Clapton (circa ‘Slowhand’). It’s the perfect album intro with its hard-driving beat and JW’s surprisingly worn vocal, whilst the light touch of Kevin McKendree on keys brings to mind Chuck Leavell’s solo material. Whilst the first track sets the bar high, ‘how many hearts’ still manages to push it one step higher with its sweet shuffle, ecstatic solos and, raising the temperature sky high, a perfect co-vocal from guest singer Jaida Dreyer, who brings a soulful, sensuous vibe to proceedings. It’s simply a wonderful song, and one that will shuffle its way into your consciousness and then lodge there for days on end. The title track is a gloriously gnarled slab of trad-blues with white hot guitar work and hard-boogie piano conjuring images of John Mayall’s heyday before JW leads his band on the first of a number of surprising detours. ‘Murder in my heart for the judge’ is a bright and breezy cover of the Moby Grape classic (from ‘wow/grape jam’) and it’s played with such joy, it all but eclipses the original. A co-write with Ottowa-based songwriter Dick Cooper, ‘who I am’ is a deeply personal song with a Clapton vibe, recalling his collaboration with Sting and Michael Kamen. It’s a powerful piece of music and one that cuts closest to the core of JW Jones. The first half of the album concludes with another stylistic diversion as JW takes a country path on the lovelorn ‘away too long’, Laura Greenberg anchoring the track with her slinky basslines even as Kevin’s Hammond tones threaten to blow away in the breeze of JWs airy guitar work.
The second half of the record kicks off with ‘same mistakes’, a track that could easily slot neatly into Robert Cray’s oeuvre with its smooth guitar work and hopeful lyric. It leads neatly to the slow blues ballad, ‘leave me out’, a track that would probably stand as a weak point if it weren’t for the exquisite guitar playing that JW scatters across its surface. Not a Gary Moore cover, ‘midnight blues’ is a surprisingly energetic, surf-inflected track with some blistering fret work and a whimsical, fifties vibe. It’s an easy favourite and yet another example of the way that JW can slip between styles without once losing sight of his core sound. Bryan Owings shines on drums as he leads the way into the gritty, distorted blues of ‘out in the woods’, a taut shuffle that recalls nothing so much as a countrified Screaming Trees. Things slow down for the bitter-sweet ‘already know’, a track with a sweet falsetto and plenty of soul whilst ‘where do you think I was’ practically explodes into life with its guitar stabs and blazing chorus. The album spins to its end with the aptly titled ‘wham’, a hyper-speed, countrified blast that sounds like the Meat Puppets jamming with Dick Dale. With the band clearly having a blast, it feels like the sort of track that can only come together when the chemistry between band members is exactly right, and it provides a wonderful closer to the album that can’t fail but bring a smile to your face.
Who’d have thought that, in a year which saw releases from Sonny Landreth and Joe Bonamassa, I’d find one of my blues albums of the year right at the end of it? ‘High Temperature’ pretty much has it all. The interplay between JW and keyboardist Kevin McKendree is a delight and the rest of the band are no less impressive as they traipse across the history of the blues. Reference points abound, but it’s all kept coherent thanks to Colin’s infallible production and JWs intuitive guitar work. An album that is an absolute joy from start to finish, ‘high temperature’ is a blues gem. 9
See JW Jones On Tour In 2017