Summary : This is an honest, tight and thoroughly enjoyable excursion into contemporary blues.
Jeff Jensen is a talented, personable songwriter and performer. Road Worn and Ragged (2013) is his third studio album with his self-named band. This outing includes harmonica wizard Brandon Santini, bassist Bill Ruffino, drummer Jim Cunningham, and pianist Victor Wainwright, who is making quite a buzz in the blues world in his own right. Together, they have created a tight, powerful CD that mines Jensen’s emotional history while remaining pleasurable to listen to from start to finish.
The CD starts with “Brunette Woman,” which showcases the talents of the band, Jensen’s guitar wizardry, and sets the honest tone of Jensen’s original material with its story of heartbreak and the disorientation it brings: “When I look in the mirror, I don’t even see myself.” The next song, “Good Bye Portland,” is a peppy, New Orleans-flavored tune and a hopeful song which acknowledges loss but embraces the need for a change. Jensen is moving on in this song and you will be happy to travel with him.
“Heart Attack and Vine” is a blues rock warning about the dangers of the Hollywood lifestyle. It is followed by the instrumental “Pepper,” just to give the listener a chance to relax a bit and groove.
Next on the CD is my favorite track, “Gee, Baby Ain’t I Good to You,” a traditional number produced by Wainwright. It’s slow, jazzy, heartfelt, and romantic.
By contrast, “Little Red Rooster” is a delightful rendition of the well-loved Willie Dixon tune, and gives Jensen a chance to show off his hot guitar licks. It’s a great party tune and is amusingly paired with Muddy Waters’ “Crosseyed Cat,” just to prove that Jensen and his band can absolutely play the bona fide blues. It benefits tremendously from Santini’s fierce harmonica playing.
“Raggedy Ann,” co-written by Jensen and Wainwright, once again mines Jensen’s history for this tale of a man who is a bit “tattered and torn” but still hopefully “looking for my Raggedy Ann.” It’s a sweet stroll musically, with a satisfying guitar solo and some tasty piano from Wainwright.
Changing moods again, Jensen then gives us “River Runs Dry,” a slow, thoughtful ballad with a husky, weary vocal and emotional lyrics that let us into the soul of the singer for the duration of the song. The quiet accompaniment of guitar, steady drumbeat, and evocative piano perfectly underscores this very touching song.
The CD ends with “Thankful,” a song that acknowledges both the hardships of the musician’s life and the blessings. It’s a direct message from Jensen to his fans and supporters and is as real and honest as the man himself reveals himself to be throughout this project.
Jensen and the band he surrounded himself with for this project deserve a place on your playlist. This CD not only is full of honest but never depressing emotion and truth about life transitions, acknowledging good times and bad, but it’s really fine music too. More than that, it leaves you feeling you’ve met a friend. Only the most special musical projects can do that. Jensen’s latest one does.
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