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The Graham Album Review #1796

The Jason Spooner Band: Chemical
by George Graham

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Click on CD Cover for Audio Review in streaming mp3 format

(Independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 9/3/2014)

There would not seem to be a lot of overlap between singer-songwriters and jam bands. One tends to be by oneself and have the emphasis on the poetry of the lyrics, while the other is a collective improvisatory effort with the focus on the instrumental playing jam band lyrics are often there to fill the musical space and are seldom profound, and sometimes border on the vacuous.

This week, we have a new release by a New England-based group who are a kind of band who are sometimes funky doing the music of a leader who has had a career as a singer-songwriter. It’s the newest from the Jason Spooner Band, called Chemical.

Jason Spooner came into music at a fairly early age. His publicity bio says that he got into his father’s collection of 8-track tapes from the likes of Paul Simon, Neil Young, and Van Morrison, and also Motown figures including Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight. By his teens, Spooner was playing coffee houses. Later, he toured Europe, playing folk clubs in England and Spain. He landed a job working for a blues record company and got to meet some of the venerable performers who recorded for the label.

Spooner released his first album Lost Houses in 2003, which was more of a folkie songer-songwriter record, but then began working with a regular electric band, consisting of bassist Adam Frederick and drummer Reed Chambers, who have remained with him on the new record. Chemical is Spooner’s third full-length studio album. As the group have become more of a unit, that has influenced the sound of the songs to the point that some can resemble jam band material. The group has expended to a quartet on Chemical with the addition of Warren McPherson on keyboards. And the group offer up two instrumentals on the new album, but for most of it Spooner creates high quality lyrics, some of which can comment on the world and a few of which are variations on love songs.

The core of the band on the record has obviously been playing together for quite a while – the better part of a decade – and so they are tight and often bring in a funk beat to the music. They are also not afraid to add some reggae or other tropical ingredients to the mix. And there is also a classic acoustic guitar solo folkie performance on the album. It’s a nice combination with a kind of good-time sound, and they pull it off well.

In keeping with its jam band facet, the generous hour-long CD opens with a track called Top Hat that features interesting writing both musically and lyrically, with its quirky shifting rhythm and soulful sound. It’s a highlight of the album. <<>>

A song called After All is another example of the multifaceted music of Spooner and band. Lyrically, it’s got a lot going for it, with some apparent advice to a significant-other who is as the song says, “a prisoner of your pride.” <<>> Then it turns into a good easy-going jam-band style track for its extended instrumental section. <<>>

Fireflies evokes some Southern-style rock with its lyrics that reminisce about a lazy summer night. <<>>

The folky side of Jason Spooner comes out on a piece called Shrouded with its acoustic guitar. It’s another love song, in this case trying to maintain a relationship. <<>>

Another of the album’s highlights is Read Them Their Rights, a somewhat atmospheric-sounding piece with rather cryptic lyrics. <<>>

One of the instrumentals on the album shows another of the band’s various musical sides. The composition called Weld was written by bassist Adam Frederick. It’s definitely edgier than much of the rest of the record. <<>>

With a bit of a tropical sound is a track called Back and Forth, the story of someone for whom fame has become difficult. <<>>

The CD ends with a piece by Jason Spooner being the solo folkie. The song is called Spell a nice, poetic love song. <<>>

Chemical the new third full-length CD by the Jason Spooner Band is an all-around enjoyable album that represents a hybrid of jam band and singer-songwriter influences, with intelligent lyrics and appealing vocals performed by a good tight band that can stretch out on occasion. The material is all high in quality with Spooner showing some of the influence by the artists he grew up listening to from his father’s music collection, while adding his own personality. There’s nothing particularly iconoclastic about the record, nor is it riding on any pop trends either with the currently fashionable or the fashionably retro. But it’s got a combination of musical honesty and smarts that make this a record that is likely to have a good deal of staying power.

Our grade for sound quality is about A-minus. Sometimes the vocals sound a little overdriven, and a real piano would have been so much better than the electronic piano that was used, probably for budgetary reasons. But the mix generally has everything in the right proportion, and the sound is not excessively cranked-up by volume compression.

Sometimes the right combination of familiar influences came come together in the hands of worthy artists to make something that is distinctive in its own way, and quite appealing. The Jason Spooner Band have hit just that right spot.

This is George Graham.

(c) Copyright 2014 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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This page last updated September 15, 2014