Canadian blues artist JW-Jones continues to mature as a performer and his latest CD, “Midnight Memphis Sun” (Ruf), certainly will enhance his reputation as it shows his maturation as a vocalist in addition to his continual development as a guitarist. The promise of his earliest recordings, that displayed some awkwardness as a vocalist, was shown to reached fruition in his previous CD, “Blueslisted.” The present CD title refers to the fact this was recorded in Memphis at the Sun Studios. It is a robust collection of blues with jump blues and Memphis soul strains integrally mixed in the material. Jones also has special guests Hubert Sumlin and Charlie Musselwhite, who each lend their talents to three tracks each.
A Memphis soul groove (riff suggestive of “Midnight Hour”) is evident for the opening “Off The Market," which is followed by a jumping rendition of a lesser known Lowell Fulson number, “Love Grows Cold.” Both performances display his solid singing and slashing guitar with echoes of Ike Turner’s use of the whammy bar on the latter. Jones' playing is both thoughtful and passionate. With Musselwhite’s harp added to “Kissin’ in Memphis,” Jones delivers, in a low-key fashion, a lyrical homage to some of the musical greats that painted Memphis blue in the fifties through seventies. The driving ”Cuts Like a Knife,” comes from Bryan Adams. Here Jones sings about how his women threw things away with plenty of strong guitar as well as nice organ from Jesse Whitely. “Born Operator” with Hubert Sumlin, is about a shady character who ran Ponzi scheme and stole other folks dreams. The performance has musical echoes of Magic Sam, evident in Jones playing that contrasts with Sumlin’s sizzling single note work.
Musselwhite returns behind Jones’ easy vocal on Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry’s “Burnt Child.” In contrast, Jones’ rendition of Jimmy Reed’s “I Don’t Go For That,” has rollicking piano and jumping rhythm from Larry Taylor on bass and Richard Innes on drums, and is far removed from Reed’s lazy style. It is a storming Chicago blues stomp with Jones fleet single note solo echoing some of the Memphis greats from the early 50s before Musselwhite’s explosive harp solo showcasing Musselwhite's fat tone. Jones’ “Mean Streak,” mixes his menacing guitar sound with the spare backing from Taylor and Innes to evoke some of the doomy recordings that James Reed and Johnny Fuller recorded for Bay Area blues producer Bob Geddins. Jones may not be quite up to the level of those giants as a singer, but this splendid performance shows how he knows how to build atmosphere in his performances and knows that loud and frantic vocals and playing simply are no replacement for thoughtful, yet passionate performances. “Howlin’ With Hubert” is a nice instrumental shuffle with Jones and Sumlin trade solos.
Sumlin also guests on the closing track, “Games,” with its driving, churning groove and after Sumlin’s solo, Jones enters, basing his solo on “Got My Mojo Working” and adding some Freddie King riffs here. It is another display of Jones growth from a blues prodigy to a seasoned veteran whose music makes blues fans of all stripes take notice. It is a solid ending to yet another first-rate recording by JW-Jones.
This review first appeared in Issue 329 of Jazz & Blues Report (September 2010), and I have made some stylistic changes for the blog. The review copy was provided by the publicity firm for Ruf Records.