I'd say I get close to a CD a day being delivered in the mail from somebody looking for me to write a review, the majority of which come from people promoting blues performers. Don't get me wrong, I love the blues, but after five years of listening to who know how many different bands and solo performers playing everything from old-time country blues to hard-rock electric blues… Well let's just say I'm not as easily impressed as I once was. Now I'm not so crass as to say that I've heard it all; however if I'm being honest with myself and others, there are a lot of folks out playing the same thing.
However, that makes it all the more of a pleasure when you come across somebody who mixes it up as much on their disc as Dennis Jones does on his new release Pleasure & Pain. For although Jones plays electric blues like countless others, he distinguishes himself from the pack by not being satisfied with simply playing loud, hard and fast. In fact he plays more than just your standard twelve bar electric blues by adding in dollops of other flavors to many of his songs.
Sure he can rock out with best of them as he proves on a track like "Try Not To Lie," which is full of power chords and searing solos. Heck, if you only listened to that song and the two that follow it on the disc, "I Want It Yesterday" and "Him Or Me," you'd label him a hard-rocking blues man and be done with him. I have to confess when I first looked at the cover of Pleasure & Pain I fully expected a whole album of that type of music. However, this disc offers solid proof that there is truth in the old saying that you should never judge a book by its cover. Sure he may look like a gunslinger on the front cover, but that doesn't mean he's not capable of delivering other styles equally well.
In fact the first song on the disc, "Brand New Day", lets you know right away that he's more than a one-dimensional player. It's a great up-tempo song with a real swing to it that immediately takes the edge off any hardness the cover might have suggested. What you don't know, as its only the first song, is that it's also an indication of his ability to marry his guitar style with the mood of the song's lyrics. Now that may not sound like much to some of you, but it's seemingly becoming something of a lost art these days for guitar players to be able to adjust their style of playing to suit a song's atmosphere.
As you move through this disc you'll notice how Jones' guitar changes with the needs of a song and not just in the usual obvious ways that most players can handle. For while so many can adjust their volume or their speed, Jones manages to add textures to his playing which make for subtle difference in tone and style. This is really clear on "Kill The Pain," one of the more compassionate songs I've heard about substance abuse. Although it's a pretty standard electric-blues tune, there's something about his guitar that really communicates the sadness and regret that he's feeling over the suffering this person is experiencing.
The other thing that impressed me about Jones and his band (drummer Michael Turner drums and bassist Tony Ruiz) is the whole time I was listening to this disc I never once thought of them as a power trio. They are joined by guest musicians on the first and seventh tracks, but on the other nine songs it's just the three of them. In fact it wasn't until I was preparing to write this review and I checked the album credits that I realized the core of this group was only three people. While a lot of the credit has to go to Jones' ability to create different moods and atmospheres with his guitar playing, the other two musicians are also responsible for helping to create the richness of sound that originally fooled me.
Jones doesn't have the most powerful of voices nor the greatest of ranges, but he more than makes up for any deficiencies with character and expressiveness. He is clear and articulate and you can hear what he is feeling in his voice without him trying to emote. While there's the usual element of bravado and toughness that comes with the territory of being a blues/rocker, there's also a certain amount of wry self awareness that lets you know he doesn't take himself too seriously.
I don't know how many blues CDs I've reviewed over the last five years, but I do know for somebody to stand out as much as Dennis Jones has done with Pleasure & Pain means he's doing something different from the others. While I can tell you that he plays a variety of styles of electric blues equally well, that he writes all his own material, and he's an exemplary guitarist, that still doesn't quite cover what distinguished him for me. There is something about him and his music that keeps you listening where with others you might not. I'm not sure how to describe it other than to say he and his music have a type of charisma that won't let you go.
That's not something I can really describe in a review, and so you'll pretty much have to experience it for yourself. However, once you start listening to Pleasure & Pain you'll understand, and you also won't want to stop. It's not often a blues CD surprises me these days, but this one did. Give it a listen and perhaps it will surprise you too.