Tuesday, January 28, 2014

J.B. Beverley Feature Review On American Roots UK

 Link to review on American Roots UK

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"Having previously made four albums that include one live limited edition and one demo recording, as well as touring relentlessly with his band ‘The Wayward Drifters’ it was perhaps inevitable that a change was due in the shape of a ‘solo’ album for the copiously talented J.B. Beverley. How often do we see the frontman of many a great band doing this only to find the finished product a disappointment. Not so in the case of JB! This album is a real triumph for an incredibly busy singer/songwriter who also runs his own recording studio, produces and engineers other peoples recordings, as well as being an author and screenwriter. Because ‘Drifters’ Johnny Lawless retired from the road and Dan Mazer moved out to the west coast, JB was forced into rethinking his musical career and fans old and new are fortunate that this new album not only matches the high quality of previous recordings but as a bonus offers more diversity whilst still firmly within the ‘roots music’ genre.     

His roots, as with friends James Hunnicutt and Hank Williams III, are in ‘punk’ music but that particular roots strain has gradually evolved into an edgy form of music that veers between a form of gothic country to southern rock to classic country, even a little blues and just about all points in between, all played and sung as if each of those strains was the only thing JB has ever played. He is a hugely talented singer songwriter who would probably have more success sticking to plain ‘commercial country,’ (as a vocalist he is more than capable of such a swing) but then we wouldn’t get treats such as this tremendous album! He really is a musician that ploughs his own furrow and one that is deep, diverse, heartfelt and full of commitment.

The fact that he can sing straight country in many ways proves his talent for diversity because that is only a small part of what this album contains, with him being equally at home on a ‘heavy’ rocker or front porch instrumental. I would have said it was virtually impossible for anyone to make an album such as this but JB, with the help of a few hugely talented friends, pulls it off. His extraordinarily gifted friend James Hunnicutt joins him on many of the songs sometimes adding vocals but always with his excellent guitar playing and the talented Buck Thrailkill plays banjo.  

There are fifteen tracks on the album, two of which are instrumentals, twelve were written by J.B and the three covers are Motorhead’s I Ain’t No Nice Guy, a duet with his equally talented old friend James Hunnicutt that veers between mellow folksiness and a raw powerful rocked up Motorhead feel and back again, putting the original in the shade! The traditional Hang Me, Oh Hang Me is an incredible live recording of the song with just JB's tremendous vocal and acoustic guitar propelling this classic song. The other cover is the late Gene Lee Wilcox  penned Time Will Tell, a simply stunning version of the darkest of all love songs that for good measure incorporates a murder ballad!

Thematically there is a dark atmosphere to many of the songs, hardly surprising considering several personal tragedies that were occurring in JB's life at the time of writing these songs. There is a deeply reflective thread that seems to bind many of the tales together despite the individual songs coming from musically diverse directions. The album opens with Appalachian Swamp Stomp an excellent instrumental that was recorded on JB's porch with him on cigar box guitar and Big Geo Ballentine on slide guitar. It has a deep dark atmosphere that could easily lure the casual listener into thinking this is going to be a ‘hillbilly’ album, but what follows certainly gives the lie to that premise! It is followed by Get The Wheels A Rollin’ a tremendously fiery hard driving ‘southern’ rocker that veers well away from any sort of country music. I described the album as diverse and so it is proven by the next song All The Little Devils, a terrific, quite dark, slow moody ballad with just acoustic guitar plus nice harmony vocals from Hunnicutt and co author Ronnie Hymes. Three entirely different strains of roots music but can he keep up the diversity? You bet he can, as proven on the next track. It is another instrumental but one entirely different to the album opener. This is called Bit Of Pickin’ a tune that is a tremendous jaunty banjo and acoustic guitar ‘old timey’ instrumental with Buck Thrailkill on banjo and Hunnicutt and Beverley on acoustic guitars. It would be easy to imagine this one being played on a front porch of the high Appalachians or conversely on a Mississippi river boat and has the quality that the late great John Hartford would have been proud of had he written it! An excellent co write by the three players. Disappear On Down The Line is an intensely dark, sad tale with a classic country vocal on what can almost be described as a classic country song, with excellent harmonies from Hunnicutt, acoustic guitars and cello and Beverley’s peerless heartfelt lead vocal on a gorgeous slow moody ballad. The title track Stripped To The Root is an incredible song and one that emphasises JB's raw evocative vocal with just sparse acoustic guitar for company. The song has an atmosphere that says the teller has lived this life and is now reflecting on the consequences as they leave him with no way to turn but knowing that somehow he must try to find a way back up. A story of such exceptional quality and raw heartrending emotion that had Guy Clark, Townes or Prine written it, the song would be hailed as one of the great pieces of generic writing!

As a measure of the man’s talent this open hearted album could not really have been surpassed. His writing is exceptional, the arrangements never overdone, there is huge diversity, he possesses vocals that can cope with most genres within roots music and there is a natural edginess that never gets in the way of the songs. Great album! "

J.B. Beverley feature write up on American Roots UK