Lloyd Jones: Love Gotcha
by George Graham
(Blind Pig records 5057 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 10/20/99)
Over the years, there have been periodic boom times for the blues, usually followed by a fallow period. But the blues revival that started a few years ago seems in no danger of expiring. There are active blues scenes around the country and many excellent regional artists have been seeing national releases which allow wider audiences to appreciate some of these performers who have been keeping fans happy in their home region, in some cases for decades.
This week, we have the newest release by a excellent Portland, Oregon, based electric bluesman with a long career, but still not a lot of national recognition. Lloyd Jones has just released his fifth album called Love Gotcha.
The Pacific Northwest has been the site of some fine blues artists for fifty years, going back to Charles Brown in the 1940s, through Robert Cray in the 1980s, and more recently, the impressive acoustic blues of Kelly Joe Phelps. Lloyd Jones has a career that itself goes back a quarter century. He grew up in a musical family, with a trumpet-playing father who tried to teach young Lloyd the instrument, and two brothers who were in bands by the time Lloyd entered his teens. His older brother played the drums and served as Lloyd's first teacher on the instrument on which he would make his first impact. Jones recalls being taken to a James Brown concert in 1964 at the age of 13, and being blown away. He also got to see B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee while he was still in high school. So it was not surprising that Jones was smitten by the blues.
By the early 1970s, Jones was leading a popular Portland blues band called Brown Sugar, which served as backup band for many of the blues greats who came through town, like Charlie Musselwhite, Big Mama Horton and Walter Horton. One of his fans was a young Robert Cray, and they soon became good friends. By the 1980s, Jones had taken up guitar and formed a group with Curtis Salgado who had been in Robert Cray's band. Jones also directed more of his efforts to songwriting as well. After a period during which he dropped out of music, Jones formed a group called The Lloyd Jones Struggle, reflecting his own circumstances at the time, which released two CDs, in 1987 and 1989. Then Jones made a live solo album in 1993, before being signed to an audiophile label called AudioQuest to release Trouble Monkey in 1995, which received much acclaim, including on this album review series. The CD, despite being recorded while Jones was ill with a throat infection, was a brilliant album, recorded live in the studio with no overdubbing or remixing that helped to bring a bit closer to national audiences Jones' upbeat style with strong influences from Memphis Soul, New Orleans R&B and funk, rather than the familiar and ubiquitous Chicago style of blues. With a strong horn section, great songwriting with tunes that are generally upbeat and short, Jones' music is hard to resist.
Now four years after Trouble Monkey, Jones is out with Love Gotcha which picks up more or less where its predecessor left off, with strong, soulful blues and R&B with lots of class. Once again, Jones has written a bunch of songs that sound as if they were obscure old R&B classics from thirty years ago. The CD boasts a great horn section, first-rate musicianship, including Jones' straightforward but very tasteful guitar work, and Jones' appealing vocals which sometimes are reminiscent of Delbert McClinton. His band includes Glenn Holstrom on the keyboards -- mainly acoustic piano -- who also played on Trouble Monkey. And as he did four years ago, Holstrom also writes the horn arrangements. The rest of the band includes bassist Ben Jones, drummer Don Worth and backing vocalist Terry Evans.
As was the case last time, most of the CD consists of original material by Jones, which again sounds as if it was written in the Golden Days of soul. Jones has also gotten to be a clever lyricist as well. He describes his own music as "storytelling with a Memphis groove."
The leadoff track, Nickels and Dimes, written by Jones and most of the rest of his band is a excellent example. The funky tune tells a sad tale of crimes and poverty. <<>>
The title track, Love Gotcha, is also one of standouts lyrically. Terry Evans is the backing vocalist on this tune which also captures the essence of hot Memphis soul. <<>>
On his last album, Jones avoided the standard blues shuffles. This time, he embraces the style more frequently, with great results. Treat Me Like the Dog I Am has a great driving beat, and rather uncommon blues lyrics -- a litany of self-criticism. <<>> Jones gets to show off his blues guitar chops in a noteworthy solo. <<>>
Jones does one cover of an old blues song, Ride and Roll, by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. The originally-acoustic tune is given almost a rockabilly beat by Jones and company. The result is another strong track. <<>>
On his previous album, Jones generally steered around standard slow blues tunes. There is only one slow track on Love Gotcha but it's a gem. Old News features more good lyric writing and classy playing by the band, minus the horns. Jones' guitar work is a standout. <<>>
Jones sometimes addresses more serious topics in his generally good-time sounding songs. Nickels and Dimes dealt with crime, while Shaken Up turns out to be about a gambling habit. The band cooks, with particularly good horn arrangements. <<>>
Jones scales his group back to a trio for a down-in-the-swamp sound on the track Fool's Gold, which has about the most conventional blues lyrics on the album. <<>>
There is one acoustic track, Big Ol' Shirt, with the album's most light-hearted lyrics. Jones sounds great in this context, and after hearing this song, one is left wanting to hear more acoustic tracks from Jones. <<>>
The album ends with Highway Rider, another original song that sounds as if it could have been written any time in the past thirty years. It's a kind of classic soulful road song. <<>>
Pacific Northwest bluesman Lloyd Jones' new fifth album, Love Gotcha, his first in four years, is an irresistible recording of a soul, R&B and blues blend marked by especially strong songwriting, and excellent musicianship. The band really cooks throughout, and Jones' gruff tenor vocals are quite appealing. All in all, it's a very tasteful and classy album that can make for great party music.
Our sound quality grade for this CD is almost an A. Most of the songs sound great, with a clean sound and a minimum of studio effects. But one or two tracks, most notably the song Ain't Nothing a Young Girl Can Do fall short of the rest sonically with some distortion and too much audio compression. But overall, it makes great listening on a good stereo system.
Like hundreds of other blues artists around the country, Lloyd Jones has been attracting audiences in his home region in the Pacific Northwest, without establishing much of a national reputation. I hope this new CD will help to build his name recognition among blues fans everywhere. Somebody this good can't be kept a secret forever.
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