Slip back a few years and it seemed the British blues scene was being infiltrated by good looking boys wearing guitars slung down low. It gave the scene a much needed kick up the arse, and it also brought in female admirers to a genre of music mostly populated by ageing men. That the music struck the right attitude and bore style meant fans of the new blues stuck around. And it needed to, because novelty value won’t pay the rent forever, and if youth is one of those factors it’s far too fleeting a commodity to maintain a career. Laurence Jones was one of those new kids on the block, pocketing four British Blues Awards along the way, and in more recent years he’s began to adapt to the changing times. Trying on associated styles and seeing how they fit, 2019’s Laurence Jones Band gave us some enjoyable pumped-up latter-day-Beatles mannerisms but, overall, there’s been the tendency to rock out hard more.
Bad Luck & The Blues finds Jones in power trio mode. Now, that’s a shame since he had a bloody good keyboard player in his band, but maybe it’s just for this record. Jack Alexander Timmis, formerly of another hot young blues band in Virgil & The Accelerators, plays bass, and Ash Sheehan, who’s been playing live with Glenn Hughes, is on drums. The music itself ranges from heavy energetic rockers, to those with a more Cream-styled old school blues rock, and more soulful Lenny Kravitz-goes-Hendrix numbers. It’s all pretty nifty stuff with some wax-free earworms to keep your attention.
What’s noticeable is how often Jones goes for the attack from the get-go with his main riffs, there’s an urgency apparent there. While he’s also often wilder and more raucous in his upfront soloing, there’s also a tempered sustain present on many of the tracks that calls to mind the mastered nuances of Robin Trower. His voice is deeper too, whether that’s an age thing or he feels it more appropriate I couldn’t say, but it’s apparent.
I’ve been hearing the opening title track on the airwaves, Spotify and whatever listening device was at hand for a while now, but the deeper voice took a while for it to register who was singing. With a riff that hits in all the right places; it’s hard and heavy but swings like a mother giving off the same kind of vibes you felt when you first heard Mountain’s ‘Mississippi Queen’ or Rick Derringer’s ‘Rock And Roll, Hoochie Koo’ given some smoother Robert Cray action – Yes, it’s got that classic 70s rock single thing going but still feels fresh, and mixed by Chris Sheldon, then mastered at Abbey Road Studios by Christian Wright the rest of the album pretty much maintains that quality atmosphere. ‘Bad Luck & The Blues’ may seem an atypical title for a blues number, but vocally he delivers it with urgency, a deep conviction delivered on the hook line chorus (wherein Timmins’ bass also swings wondrously low) and it transpires this is because its ben revealed he has Crohn’s disease, with the various mental and physical challenges that brings. Regardless of which, the number’s a healthy shot of feel-good medicine to be taken regularly.
‘I’m Gone’ is a slowed-down stoned-out heavy blues that’s Queens Of The Stone Age doing Cream while throwing in plenty of skewered wailing Trower-styled atonal sonics, and there’s more of those albeit being tossed like grenades by some zealot in a warzone on recent single ‘Lonely Road’ that’s a far faster-paced number chugging away good and proper like the Quo used to do on 12 bar boogie chords.
‘Don’t You Leave Me This Way’ returns us to slower heavy thudding blues rock, with a Vanilla Fudge-like rhythm section pummelling away while Jones makes like Hendrix and Trower, and creatively not just because he’s using a similar set of effects pedals to those they used. It’s the delivery here of what’s a very basic song that makes this one work, and where it could easily have come across as quite pedestrian proves rather catchy.
By now it should be apparent the song titles have a pretty similar theme, and though while not unpredictable for the blues they begin to read a little one dimensional. Fortuitously the actual songs themselves generally prove otherwise. While the next two imply more hard times and broken hearts they reflect a shift in musical format. ‘Lost & Broken’ is non-too-far removed from the kind of hardened soul rock Richie Kotzen has a penchant for, but Jones’ more taught guitar stylisations define it overall. Going whole hog for a funkier groove we have ‘Stuck In The Night’ where there’s an Aerosmith shrug and sideways bounce to the groovy riff, with lead guitar work more akin to Victims Of The Fury-era Trower, then in the last minute someone’s raided Tony Iommi’s archives and the trio is doing double time on something that got mislaid during either the Sabbath Bloody Sabbath or Sabotage sessions. That this little ditty all happens with a running time of only 3.37 minutes seems quite unbelievable.
With four numbers to go, there’s a shift in the titles to affirm a more positive approach, attested by the ‘Take Control’ being a nagging chugging riff that drives back into itself with deeper grooves even as Jones’ voice hit soulful moaning high notes. There are affectations of eighties heavy metal here just as there are the more modern rock bludgeoning Royal Blood, but again it’s not where it comes from on these songs it’s the overall effect created by them.
‘Out In The Distance’ is Jack Bruce rock riffing with a funkier Lenny Kravitz twist and some soulful asides, while ‘Woman’ sounds like they got Roger Bain in to produce the track because it’s equal measures of Sabbath and Budgie while still the blues, but with a ferocity and drive to it that wants to pummel all before it – Despite it being one of those actual love song things.
The valedictory ‘You’re Not Alone’ sees us out with affirmative vibes exuded throughout over a hard rocking riff played to a heavy grooved beat and more exemplary soloing of the kind that’s going to make critics take another look at just what Laurence Jones can do. Now, it could well be that this is a one-off get-it-off-your-chest affair and the not-quite-so-young Mr J might move onto something different next time, but all said and done, there are some bloody good tunes on this long player.
Reviewed by Paul H Birch.
Bad Luck & The Blues is released via Marshall Records and is available now (from here).
- Bad Luck & The Blues
- I’m Gone
- Lonely Road
- Don’t You Leave Me This Way
- Lost & Broken
- Stuck In The Night
- Take Control
- Out In The Distance
- You’re Not Alone