Thursday, August 25, 2022

The Jujubes - Raging Moon

A bit of googling reveals that jujubes are “the edible berrylike fruit of a Eurasian plant, formerly taken as a cure for coughs”, which ain’t yer typical Midnight Moonshine moniker for a blues outfit.  Appropriately so, because if Siouxsie Sioux had ever had a notion to make a stripped back blues album, it might have turned out something like Raging Moon.  And this is a good thing.
I’m kidding, right?  Well yeah, a bit.  I mean, vocalist Nikki Brooks doesn’t sound doomy and Gothic like ol’ Siouxsie.  But her cooing voice does have a slightly unsettling undertone, in keeping with the trio’s edgy, off-kilter blues sound.
The Jujubes get down and get with it.

They’re so minimalist that the other two geezers don’t even have surnames.*  There’s Sandy, who plays guitar.  And there’s Pete, who plays harmonica and guitar.  But together The Jujubes make a damn good job of producing something fresh and interesting with so little.  The opening ‘Wang Dang Doodle’ is a case in point, delivered without the heft of Howlin’ Wolf or Koko Taylor but with a constant air of tension, starting with guitar that’s rhythmically picked at, later gatecrashed by some slashing chords – although every time it sounds like letting go, they pull it back and keep you guessing, right down to the unorthodox sounding percussion.  They swing a bit more on ‘You Ain’t So Bad’, with some quivering toots of harp and nimble exchanges of guitar breaks, and Brooks cutting loose vocally, but it still feels like someone trying out a blues set in a dingy CBGBs circa 1975.
‘True Religion’ goes back to Lead Belly and probably beyond, but here sounds like it’s been reimagined somewhere outlandishly European, like Albania maybe, with Brooks crooning edgily against a backdrop of intermingled guitars.  Her voice is then given a muted effect on ‘The Last Thing’, over a nagging, hypnotic rhythm and a throbbing deep down riff from one of the guitars, with interjections of a familiar sounding, spiky guitar motif.  The overall effect is like blood dripping off the edge of a gleaming knife.  Or something.
‘High Fever Blues’ comes with a near-whispered a cappella intro, progressing with sparse acoustic strumming and some ghostly twangs of slide, before some nifty, steely guitar breaks turn it into something that Bukka White might recognise.  Bessie Smith’s ‘Devil’s Gonna Get You’, meanwhile, is tense and urgent with a thudding percussive beat that eventually bursts into a boom-shta-ta-shtum rhythm overlaid by squawking harp and some deeply discordant guitar, while Brooks gets decidedly agitated at the mic.
She goes back to slow and stealthy on the macabre-sounding ‘Make Me Cry’, to the accompaniment of shivering, twanging, prickling guitars.  But the closing ‘Something More’ feels like there’s a break in the clouds, with some simple but lovely acoustic strumming, and wafts of slide guitar notes carried in on the breeze to join Brooks’ swooning vocal.
I wonder what blues traditionalists will make of all this.  Some of the stuff here feels old and bluesy enough to have been exhumed from a shallow grave at a Mississippi crossroads.  But at the same time it’s all imbued with a very modern, knowing sense of direction.  Raging Moon is a confident, very well executed album, which caught me unawares.  But you know the score now, dear reader.  The Jujubes deserve your attention - and I mean right now.
Raging Moon
 is released on 17 September, and can be ordered here.

*Actually this isn't true at all.  They're called Sandy Michie and Pete Sim.  But I didn't have that info when I first wrote the review - and anyway, it was a good line!  And guesting on percussion was a fella called OC Thomas, by the way.

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