Lloyd Jones: Doing A Body Good
Lloyd Jones goes acoustic and keeps the folk blues vibrant on Highway Bound
According to his own liner notes for this enticing collection of almost-all-acoustic folk blues, Lloyd Jones was given his charge by none other than Big Walter, who once told the Portland, Oregon, blues master: “I’m getting old now--probably won’t be this way again. You gotta keep it going.”
For some 30 years, Mr. Jones has done as Big Walter told him, and then some. By his own definition he combines “New Orleans rhythms, the simplicity of Memphis music, and the rawness of the blues, all for the 21st Century.” Most of the time he works with a fire breathing quartet, doing things with his Strat and his smoky, soulful voice (he sounds a lot like his buddy Delbert McClinton, in fact, but that’s not why Delbert counts Lloyd among his favorite artists--for Delbert, it’s more about authenticity, about an artist revealing a life lived when he/she tells a tale) that might well be illegal in certain states. Highway Bound (his first new long player since 2003’s barnburning Triple Double cage match electric blues mayhem with Tommy Castro, Jimmy Hal and the Double Trouble nucleus of Chris Layton, Tommy Shannon and Reese Wynans) is a real treat for Jones’s fans and for the blues world in general; for those new to Jones’s special art, it should inspire further investigations into the man’s electric repertoire.
Electric blues from Lloyd Jones: ‘Treat Me Like The Dog I Am,’ live at Portland’s Waterfront Blues Festival. A Jones original, the song was featured on his 1999 Love Gotcha album on Blind Pig Records.
For Highway Bound, Jones telescopes his geographical range primarily into the Mississippi Delta area. Apart from his compadre Charlie Musselwhite adding some lubricious harmonica shimmers to a salacious treatment of John Brim’s “Ice Cream Man,” and Jones’s fellow Portland-based blues/soul mainstay Curtis Salgado also sitting in on harp to contribute tasty, spirited moans and hollers to the album closer, a genial, front porch-intimate rendering of the Hoagy Carmichael-Johnny Mercer evergreen “Lazybones,” the other 14 tracks all feature Jones alone. For the most part it’s his voice and an acoustic guitar re-energizing songs penned by everyone from W.C. Handy to Lead Belly to Robert Johnson to Elizabeth Cotton to Mississippi John Hurt (and others), with a couple of Jones originals added to the mix: his foot stompin’ blues “Travelin’ On,” concerning a gent who needs to go mobile until the heat on him dies down (ever chivalrous, he does invite his woman to join him), opens the album, and its account of wanderlust seems an appropriate setup for the range of songs Jones then assays en route to the final tune. Near the end he offers another original, “You Better,” a brisk, fingerpicked advisory to the men in the audience alerting them to the guaranteed impending news from their woman as to how they better carve out some time from busy schedules to attend to their beloved’s needs; to press the point, at about the halfway mark Jones breaks into a heated sprint, frailing the strings with impunity while loosing the restraints on his vocal in reminding listeners that to ignore his advice is to insure someone else coming along to steal away your good thang.
A smoldering blues ballad, ‘Nothing You Can Say,’ a Lloyd Jones original from his 1989 album on Criminal Records, Small Potatoes.
Otherwise, Jones tackles various blues evergreens fearlessly, doing himself and those songs’ sources proud in the process. A funky rendering of Handy’s “Careless Love,” with its strong fingerpicked bass lines and stinging lower strings fills, affords him an opening to toy with the rhythmic structure while playing off it and to it with his spirited phrasing. Elizabeth Cotton wrote more than “Freight Train,” as Jones emphasizes with a gingerly fingerpicked rendition of her bluesy kissoff number, “When I’m Gone,” playing it just right vocally to enhance both the sadness and the satisfaction vying for supremacy in a bittersweet adieu. For Robert Johnson’s “Last Fair Deal Gone Down” Jones sets the acoustic aside in favor of a Danelectro played through a Red Plate amp, which enables a powerful, howling slide break at midpoint otherwise framed by driving, merciless top strings riffing under the singer’s assertive vocal, all of which serves to put a new coat of paint on one of Johnson’s most haunting songs by truncating it by half, dispensing with the last verse (“my captain’s so mean on me…”), accelerating its pace and singing to his Ida Belle (renamed Ida Mae here) in a spirit of triumph. Johnson purists may object, but the buoyancy in Jones’s grainy voice and the high-spirited tempo make for a pleasing alternative interpretation. On the other hand his steady, restrained fingerpicking and plaintive, straightforward vocal on “Good Night Irene” hew to Lead Belly’s original template, rendering it more a deep personal statement than the pop singalong it became post-Weavers. These smart choices, evident throughout Highway Bound, reanimate the repertoire, resulting in a terrific syncopated version of Willie McTell’s “Broke Down Engine,” a jubilant, strutting take on Big Bill Broonzy’s “Key To the Highway” and a hilarious rendering of Sonny Boy’s “Good Morning Little School Girl,” with its composer’s braggadocio delivered with a knowing wink by Jones over his vigorous fingerpicking. If this were a vinyl record, the best advice would be to drop the needle down anywhere, because it’s all good and even surprising at points. Whatever the counterpart to that is in the CD/iPod era, do it and reap the benefits thereof. In any format, any old way you choose it, Highway Bound does a body good.