Friday, October 19, 2018

Jawbone - Jawbone

Good tunes, good tunes. Good words too, for that matter.
If you’re thinking that Jawbone sounds like the monicker of some thrash metal band, you can dispense with that notion pronto.  This four-piece featuring Paddy Milner on keys and vocals, Marcus Bonfanti on guitar and vocals, and Rex Horan and Evan Jenkins on bass and drums respectively, is actually named after a song on the eponymous 1969 album by The Band.  Which makes absolute sense when you listen to the stew of rootsy, bluesy, Sixties rock they’ve cooked up on this debut album.
But there’s a very British sensibility at work here too, so that whatever their influences may be their sound evokes the likes of Van the Man without the spiritual intensity, Gerry Rafferty without the dense production, and Jackie Leven without the eccentricity.
Jawbone get down and get with it, sitting round the table
Pic by Rob Blackham
And in fact the peak point of the album lies in two songs just after halfway, in ‘Rolling On The Underground’ and ‘Big Old Smoke’, each of which in its own way is a paean to the foursome’s home base of London.  The first has a Kinks-meets-Beatles feel, with stabbing guitar chords over rattling drums on the intro, Milner and Bonfanti sharing the vocals, and the kind of catchy melody that you’ll soon realise is a trademark, especially with it’s descending “Down, down, down, down” chorus.  The second is a rousing, brisk affair, on which Bonfanti does the singing in a typically gruff fashion.  The most booty-shaking grabber on the record, with a slide guitar riff, honky tonk piano and stinging Bonfanti solo, it’s simple but classic rock’n’roll.
Not that these are isolated winners, because there’s plenty of quality and enjoyment to be found either side of them. With Bonfanti and Milner sharing the lead vocal duties, sometimes duetting, and with Horan weighing in on occasional three-part harmonies, there’s variety to the delivery of the melodies, Milner’s sweeter voice contrasting with Bonfanti’s semi-hoarse rasp. They alternate on the opening ‘Leave No Traces’, a piano-led, swinging and spacious arrangement that’s typical of the feel they bring to the material.  There’s a great hook wrapped around the chorus, with the lines “Heaven doesn’t want me, And the Devil doesn’t know who I am” encapsulating lyrical theme.  With a relaxed guitar solo and a clever, round-like vocal bridge – hands up who remembers “rounds” from music in school? – over shuffling drums fromJenkins, it epitomises their ability in constructing a song.
At the other end of the album, ‘The Years Used To Mean So Much’ is probably the most Band-like tune on the album.  With halting piano, sweeps of organ, and the beautiful harmonies on the chorus, it’s a song of nostalgic reflection bathed in a warm glow.  Similar musical and emotional qualities echo through the earlier ‘Sit Round The Table’.
Clever lyrics abound, whether in the sharpness of the gleefully bitter ‘Get What You Deserve’, or the reflective but hopeful ‘Two Billion Heartbeats’, with its notion that each of us arrives with a quota of heartbeats to use wisely, and “Two hundred have gone just singing this song”, to which they add a tasteful piano line, novel percussion twists, and some sparkling guitar on the outro.
I could go on, but I’ll let you discover the delights of the rest of this album yourself.  Ten tracks, forty-five minutes – this is the way records used to be, and it’s an elegant sufficiency.  If what you’re after is a load of crash-bang-wallop – “shoddy rock music”, as Ian Siegal called it during a gig this year – then this isn’t for you.  But if you're the kind of listener for whom it’s all about the songs, then Jawbone is just the job.

Jawbone is released on 9 November.
Jawbone are touring the Czech Republic and Spain during October and November.

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