It being a somewhat limited form, most blues artists grow by refining their delivery and improving their overall sound. It is, after all, a genre that values experience. Ottawa’s JW Jones, already a veteran while still in his twenties, is a blues guy through and through. But he’s determined to grow as an artist, and while he remains committed to the blues form, he’s constantly expanding on the standard twelve-bar formula, with complex compositions that are inventive and challenging yet retain the emotional impact that renders the blues so potent.
In the past, Jones has looked outside of his core band for additional inspiration, attracting such heavy hitters as Hubert Sumlin, Kim Wilson, Junior Watson, and David ‘Fathead’ Newman to help spice up previous outings. Here he works primarily with his own outfit (drummer Jeff Asselin, bassist Marc Decho, with Jesse Whitely on keys), with guest appearances kept to a minimum. (James Rooke plays bass on a track, while Jeremy Wakefield contributes steel guitar to a pair and Steve Dawson, who mixed the disc at his own Henhouse Studio, adding National Tricone on a track). In keeping with the direct approach, JW even recorded at his own house in Ottawa, though the crisp, clean sound is easily the equal of most studio outings.
Jones is also responsible for the bulk of the material, a handful with help from Tim Wynne-Jones, including only two covers this time out – Little Milton’s “I’m Tryin,” and the flat-out rocker “So Long I’m Gone” (courtesy of Roy Orbison) the ends things on a raucous yet curiously poignant note.
Jones has seemingly always(!) been a superior guitar slinger. His execution is flawless, his tone clean and razor-sharp or delightfully dirty as required, and he’s blessed with an exquisite sense of when to play exactly what works. Unlike most young six-stringers, Jones has an intuitive understanding of the value of restraint, and while he’s quite capable of dazzling displays, he choosies his spots carefully and never, ever overplays. Rather than writing songs that serve as vehicles for frenzied fretboard excess, his solos are carefully crafted and tailored to fit the song. Make no mistake, though – Jones is one of the most dangerous guitarists around, and when the time is right he can cut loose with the best – he’s unfailingly imaginative, constructing his instrumental interludes with a combination of logic and sheer surprise, and he’s got tone to die for.
And the songs? They’re sturdy compositions that avoid twelve-bar cliché while generally sticking with tried-and-true themes of love longed for or lost, relationships sour or sweet. There’s little here that’s instantly recognizable as blues, yet there’s no question the ‘feel’ remains firmly rooted in that fertile soil. Whether it’s thundering drums, thick, vibrato-drenched chords, or irresistible hooks, there’s always a little more to his tunes than standard A-A-B repetition and I-IV-V progressions.
If there’s a weak point at all it’s Jones’ somewhat unremarkable voice. He’s a fine singer – no problems at all with phrasing or intonation – but the instrument itself is a bit thin and lacking the gravelly authority to be truly convincing on material with a darker tone. He’s fully invested in each and every performance – there’s no shortage of passion or commitment - but years of hard-touring simply haven’t added much grit. Everything else sounds mature and fully realized – songs, performances, and production – but Jones’ voice is still a little too youthful to leave a truly lasting impression.
That may be quibbling, though, and individual tastes will vary. Given the quality of every other component, including excellent backing from a tight and road-tested crew and some exceptionally fine fretwork – this one’s easy indeed to recommend. Showing seemingly infinite promise, Jones just keeps getting better and better, and Seventh Hour is his most fully-realized recording yet.