I met Brian Jones in Ocean Beach, San Diego. The man looks the part, dressed like a pirate by way of the San Francisco Bay (even though he’s actually from San Diego) and he talked the part too – all respect and love and the full-on Indian ashram trip. We chatted while watching the fantastic Sure Fire Soul Ensemble. He was into it. I was into it.
A few drinks in and the pirate handed me his CD, ‘Save Your Soul.’ I graciously accepted, but I was rolling my eyes inside. “Another guy wearing jewelry and a wide-brimmed hat talking about ‘real’ music and trying to save my soul with music that was actually built for the neck down.” That’s what I was saying inside my head. Brian says he doesn’t like the CD. He insists he and his band are meant to be heard live. Who am I to argue.
The CD is lean with eight tracks clocking in at 27 minutes. There’s economy in language and the bluesmen Jones’ admires would be thankful he wasn’t long-winded. There’s sophistication in simplicity after all. Joe Guevara works the keys on the intro to the title track, and it opens like a Baptist sermon. Then comes a slide guitar courtesy of Josh Swift. Brian’s calling on a lot of sacred rock and roll imagery here. In the span of 2 minutes, he mentions a stairway to heaven, the highway, and my soul and your soul. It’s genuine, but he plays it like he’s in on a joke we’re not privy to. There’s a sly smirk in his singing, even though he believes every single word. It’s hard to find a guy who will talk about the Truth, with a capital T, without irony. In that, he’s endearing.
Then we get to the foot stomping. “Do It Again” is driving music for people in muscle cars. Nothing feels out of place on the track. Piano fills jump in at every opportunity, the backbeat is a steady foot on the gas pedal. Drummer Calvin Lakin doesn’t let this get away from him. Brian is in the driver’s seat, but Calvin is the engine here. Everyone else just riding in his car. It’s a song about coming back again and again to the one you know you probably shouldn’t go back to, but the Blues is rooted in bad decisions and we’ve all made them. The difference here is that Brian isn’t agreeing to make a bad decision, he’s trying to convince someone, THAT someone, to join him, and he knows he’s going to win this particular battle. Why? Because no one can truly resist the man with a band. Will being in a band get you laid? I’m not certain, but it does go a long way to explaining why a deaf or blind guy could play the piano.
“Things Have Changed” opens like a barrelhouse in Memphis that I might have been in once when my beard wasn’t grey and my hair not as thin. Joe Guevara again provides the rollicking good time lead here, as Brian leans into his harmonica with extra emphasis. I love a good shuffle and strut, and this track is tailor-made for greasy barrooms and whiskey. On “Do It Again” Brian is crawling and oozing for a lady, but here he’s speaking from the point of view of a man who’s been burned hard once or twice, or maybe even thrice, all by the same woman. He used to love her, but things have changed indeed.
The centerpiece of the lean, muscular album is “Ballad of Brian Jones.” According to Brian, he wrote while he was in the middle of a lucid dream in southern India. According to me, he wrote he it somewhere between Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Tallulah, Louisiana on state route 80. He goes the full Dr. John here, reaching down deep in the throat for a growl and howl, toasting his friends, partying ’til dawn, and swaggering on.
There’s a fine line between corny and authentic. You gotta show it. That’s what separates the two. If I believe you then if I believe IN you. Brian Jones isn’t gonna rewrite the rock and roll playbook, but he believes. And that’s enough for me.
review by Jason Thompson of Ear Candy Update