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"JP Jones may well be the best modern folk musician in the country, a man who in the past attracted the ears of giants yet today remains a virtual unknown. With his 12th CD on the way this summer, it's well past time the light shone on such riveting talent."

 - JP Jones and the Folk Underground by Mark S. Tucker -- OpEdNews.com

   It takes no more than the first few bars of Life and Death to understand that JP Jones hails from the era which ushered folk music from its Mitch Millery 50s incarnation as a venue for the rather passionless peddling of past masters into a moody resuscitation of why Guthrie, Seeger, and the immortals took to songsmithing in the first place: protest, social comment, cynicism, the anarchistic sentiment to put authority on the hot plate, and a modern re-investment of the antecedent musics that helped inform blues towards its own birth: madrigal, lonesome prairie lament, proto-country, and the styles springing from earth and sky as the human spirit met with adamantine truths beyond the Bible, law books, and sanitized school texts - in other words: real life.

  If you're of Boomer age, you might've peripherally known of this gent early on, during the brief 70s mating of the Columbia and Windfall labels. The former was Clive Davis' domain, the latter Felix Pappalardi's tiny sub-entity meant for Mountain and the later West, Bruce & Laing plus a few lucky side acts like David Rea, Brothers, Bill Wilson, and Jones. However, whatever may have been possible in that congeries, the stable met, like so many, an untimely demise as Columbia chafed and abrased Windfall into a court battle and then an early grave. Jones' single slab, entitled John Paul Jones, to this day mistaken as an overlooked release from Led Zeppelin's bassist, sold 8000 copies, receiving absolutely no promo. Pappalardi's progeny sank into the sunset and there'd be no second chance in Tinsel Town for either. 

  In like manner, more talent than any of us would like to count went underground during that heyday, but, despite this typical corporatistic mis-move, JP Jones was not unnoticed. No less a name than John Hammond Sr. - who produced such artists as Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, Alberta Hunter, and Stevie Ray Vaughn - liked what he heard, as did Ed Freeman, producer for Tim Hardin, Don McLean, Tom Rush, and Roy Buchanan. For reasons unknown, nothing came of the admiration and no LP issued. Nonetheless, Jones went on to share stages with Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, Little Feat, and Bruce Springsteen, amongst others. A little while back, in quiet recognition of what had been a budding talent now grown to decidedly mature proportions, Sony re-released the debut 1973 LP on CD, a product that unfortunately came and went as quickly as the unheralded original. 

  So what was it about this guy? Merely that indefinable something that makes you stop and listen to a hypnotic busker on the street corner while gratefully passing by the latest pile of crap Rolling Stone's flakking, blasted irritatingly from Sam Goody's tin speakers as you tread past mall cornerposts. All folk music begins with an unusually intense compassion for the human condition blent with a gritty ability to look at life squarely, eschewing the fairy tales the herd indoctrinates itself with for an uncompromising and often heartbreaking understanding that bipedal animals are horribly flawed while simultaneously capable of transcendent grace. Of course, it doesn't hurt that a fortunate few of these storytellers are imbued with a magic gifted only to artists. Jones, in his lifetimes-agone woodshedding, matched a Baptist Bible Seminary education with a BA in music at Amherst and formed his own highly humanistic, non-dogmatic, hard-tack-and-hope style that blends psychology, spirituality, and an absorbingly rough literacy, a way with words and turns of phrase that have always marked the true poet's specialized desmesnes. 

  Possessing a growly voice surprisingly akin to Mark Knopfler's, interpolating glints of Warren Zevon, Bob Dylan, and even a very faint Tom Waits, the composer is accompanied on Life and Death by a stunningly appropos band, the Rite Tite, a sextet completely dialed in to what Jones is doing, abetting each composition with a streetwise backing embroidery not heard in ages. The lead cut "Cum a Live" tells all as an organ swell breaks into an indolently bracing, coffee house, blues-jazz air, a loungily urgent exhortation to wake up and live, carrying an element supplying richly lamentive side tones in Louise Muller's pulsingly emotional violin, appearing thoughout the release, as often subtle and wistful as lusty and capricious. Mike Barrette matches her unusual lines with a highly elastic electric guitar speaking like mischievous gremlins poking their heads out in just the right places, capering, dancing, forming striking modes and refrains. 

  Jones himself is a multi-instrumentalist, alternatingly playing keyboards, acoustic guitar, and harmonica while singing, but it?s that dusty voice and earthy authenticity which immediately capture the listener. Not a cut on this marvelous CD is wasted and when the band steps out for the middle eight, as in "Pull Over"...man o man o man, that's precisely what makes sonic omnivores bliss out, nudging cynical wonts aside to wallow in pure pleasure and reluctantly admit that, yes, life can sometimes be very good indeed. 

  Jones is also similar to Bruce Cockburn, a facet coming out most clearly on the solo Thugs and Lovers, shedding the killer Rite Tite to produce a just-me take, the sort of record every folkie longs to press but so few do...or are capable of. Here, uncompromisingly, the artist is put on naked display. With only four exterior elements (an inexpensive Alvarez guitar he makes sound like a Gibson Dreadnought, two microphones - one for vocals and one for the strings, and a Mac G3 to capture it all), the composer opens his cranium and thorax to show exactly where his brain and heart reside, producing a fascinating twelve-spot of ruminations on the fragility, individuality, highs and lows, and spirit of the creatures composing the Earth's dominant order. 

  Jones' lyrics are as suggestive as they are direct, leaving no emotion uninspected, no incident unobserved, speaking poetically through a sieve of experience and acceptance, willing to see matters as they are, angry or content but never misjudging. His guitar playing is masterful, bouncing and complex one song, laconic the next. As well, he's clever with lyrics, but ya hafta hear 'em in context for the full power to become evident. Some are searing, others playful; most often, though, they're windows into what other musicians never see as they weave their MTV fantasies. JP Jones' pense's are wry, insightful, and sympathetically warm even when chronicling the panoply of cold sabotages heir to man and his estate. 

  If you've grown tired of the scions of the rich and the plainly lesser young offspring of elderday folk giants (are ya listening, Jeff Buckley?); if you're longing for the flavor of delight once had when earlier discovering folkies like Dirk Hamilton, Murray McLauchlan, and Bob Sauls; and if the catalogue of those whose prodigious artistry never caught fickle Mistress Fate properly tends to leave you with that pissed-off feeling, then this is extraordinarily rewarding fare, easily the best genuine modern folk music I've heard in the last 10 years. The above CDs represent only two examples in an 11 title catalogue...with a 12th coming this summer. Do yourself a favor and listen to what the radio will never play. 

  And a tip o' the Weekly Music Reviews chapeau is rendered to the Rhode Island Progressive League for an anthology that originally turned me onto this hidden diamond-cutter.  

2006  interview with Mark Tucker: http://www.furious.com/perfect/jpjonesinterview.html


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