While his guitar playing is a bit hard rocking to my taste, there is no question his abilities or his musical imagination. His blending of blues-rock, traditional blues and soul, funk and hip hop results in a very distinctive sound. His songs are fresh and bring together the various elements together in a manner so that the music comes across as multi-faceted, not contrived. One can not praise his band enough as they handle transitions from hard rocking to more restrained sections seamlessly. The rhythm section of Sterling and Blackmon is excellent, and organist Salone stands out with both his supportive playing and solos. But the leader’s insistent playing is at the fore, and even on a shuffle type number he adds unusual, interesting twists in his playing.
Singleton is also an extremely gifted, soulful singer. His voice suggests Robert Cray (an observation that came listening to Gonna Let Go), although his delivery has more of an edge. Singleton brings so much personality to these performances that often have unusual lyrical themes. On the title track, he sings about the adversity he has overcome, underlying the drive he has to Refuse to Lose. This and Keep Pushin’, are the most personal of the songs here. On the latter number he sings about a basketball career cut short by injuries (he starred at Southern Mississippi in college), how his uncle took him to a blues club where he was bitten by the blues bug, and that has now become the life he is pursuing with his music.
Other songs perhaps have more standard themes about being mistreated such as Crime Scene which is where his lady broke his heart or Sorry, where he sings about being soft-hearted and almost feeling sorry a little bit, but when he recalls the pain she caused, he isn’t sorry a bit. This song illustrates his clever way with a phrase singing that if lying was a sport she would have a number one draft pick and a number one seed as well as imagining what she might do for a Klondike bar.
Some of my fellow blues traditionalists may find this too rocked out. After all, my initial reaction to Refuse to Lose was mixed. However, listening to this over several weeks, I now appreciate Jarekus Singelton and how stirring his music is.
I received my review copy from Alligator Records. He is appearing at the Pennsylvania Blues Festival on Sunday July 27 and I am really looking forward to his appearance. Here is a video of a recent appearance by him at the North Atlantic Blues Festival a few weeks ago.