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JP Jones - Magical Thinking

Magical Thinking

JP Jones

Vison Records #12

Vision Company Records
51-B Halsey Street
Newport RI 02840

Available from CD Baby.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

The Twelfth Time's The Charm
JP Jones and the State of American Folk-Rock
by Mark S. Tucker

Hard to believe, but JP Jones' Magical Thinking CD takes Rhode Island's minstrel well past the decade mark, years-wise and release-wise. The most astonishing aspect of this is the fact that, after a near-auspicious start in the 70s and a string of some of the absolutely finest discs in modern American folk-rock, he's still not a byword in the market or industry...despite the past attentions of giants.

No, JP Jones isn't Led Zeppelin's bassist (that gent is John Paul Jones), but he's the guy who released a lone solo LP on 70s hard-rockers' Mountain's old Windfall label, damn near minutes before that whole venture blew up in everyone's shocked face. One of music's many sordid fiascos, what happened was basically this: Clive Davis and his wolfpack of lawyer-weasels over at Columbia Records decided to dive-bomb Felix Pappalardi and Leslie West's attempt to self-deal equity away from the glacial corporate milieu and back onto themselves and a start-up roster, Jones included. One can expect what would happen in such a situation, and it did. Such is the state of art under capitalism.

Jones went down with the ship but, shortly thereafter, was nearly recaptured by John Hammond Sr. (producer for Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, etc.) and Ed Freeman (producer for Tim Hardin, Roy Buchanan, and so on). However, this was indeed the 70s and little went well then - it hardly does now, come to think of it - so what should have gelled instead fizzled, and all went home unfulfilled.

The troubador knocked around for a few years, then got re-bit by the bug, erected his own home studio, and began recording once more. The result was a dazzling re-debut, Voluntown, and the die was cast. Every year or three, a new disc emerged revealing this prodigious writer's countless talents. Even more, as we'd see with the very next outing, he had an uncanny knack for discovering musicians completely dialed-in to what he was doing, resulting in the sort of accompaniment one expects of the country's very best pro's.

Jones trod the rock and roll stage more than a few times, billed under Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, Little Feat, and a host of luminous others, so we're not talking about polished amateurs here; the guy's a vet and it shows clearly in this affecting new compendium of songs. Head-shotted on the disc's cover is his countenance, a visage that has seen much without losing its balance. His dark eyes have that knowing look and the lyrics flowing from his pen leave no doubt that he's rarely been much fooled by the million-and-one deceits lying 'neath the shadows of the human heart. Nor has he missed the joys.

Jones is a streetwise intellect, imbued with the rough and tumble of a world hostile to loners. A Man Stands Up opening the CD, demonstrates the integrity of the musician-poet's position, a re-work of a cut from his last CD, this time more extensive and rhythmically even tighter. His gravelly voice conveys the sense of weary doggedness amidst a society veering into crassness and nonsense, a mind that remembers where it came from and why. Many of the songs here recall hard-won virtues too valuable to compromise, too useful to discard, and too beneficial to grow indifferent about. Folk has always based in elder integrities, a wise conservatism which falls outside political considerations, forming the ethical protestation that's a barometer for the genre.

A strange kind of counter-rebellion shapes up and That's All Right bounces in with a mellowly energetic shuffle, reminding the listener that:

They will poke you with an elbow
They'll punch you with a fist
And if no label sticks to you
They'll swear you don't exist

That's all right
That's all right
It's just the way it should be
That's all right

…and that one should not unshoulder the burden of selfhood merely for the troubles and trials of everyday life and its pains. As in several tunes, Dylan is strongly recalled, and Jones has received a goodly amount of critical attention for the tang, though it's merely one of several pockets he falls into, depending on the requirements of each cut.

The tone of the writing is never pontificatory but rather quite accepting while critical. If it takes a while to get to redemption, well, that's just fine, it's called for, the process is not easy. Along the way, though, it's not all cold cobbled roads and rough nights; there are many delights to go with the, for instance. Wreck the Bed is an unusually erotic opus, damn near nasty while good-natured, playful, and lusty. It recalls such atypical pieces as King Crimson's Ladies of the Road or those of another folkrocker from ages past, Sarah Kernochnan and her delightfully zesty ruminations:

I miss your big-girl legs
I miss your cinnamon grin
I miss my little fish's kisses
Down where the waves roll in

You got somewhere to get to
You got somethin' to do
You got somethin' that you got comin'
And I got somethin' for you

Thick and lazy, it nonetheless has a spaciousness reflecting the oft-celestial pleasures of the flesh, something most of us spend many wistful moments recounting, recreating, or pining for.

Throughout the disc, one can't help but hear the savor of Mark Knopfler, Warren Zevon, even a bit of John Stewart, with the kind of mellifluous rock that Sniff 'N The Tears and Al Stewart's backing ensembles (Crossfire, Shot in the Dark, etc.) wielded so adroitly, here blent perfectly with folk's sobriety and thoughtfulness. Jones' voice is always the centerpiece and has travelled many nights, drenched in the expressive uniqueness required to portray the myriad vulnerabilities of a soul pondering the strengths and flaws of the common men and women for whom no easy road presents itself.

Show me the best of the best in rock's small but glowing folkish catalogue and I'll place JP Jones right beside them: John Gorka, Cliff Eberhardt, James Lee Stanley, Marc Cohn, Iain Matthews, Tom Waits, David Wilcox (the American, not that redneck, asshole, Canadian yahoo with the same moniker), and a clutch of others delighting millions with their musical legerdemain. Consider, too, that Jones isn't averse to experimentation, here inserting the 15-minute The Fire and the Rose, the CD's closer, a Homeric marathon dropping whatever sturm-und-drang that may have occurred in the other 10 cuts, returning to the full weight of the folk tradition, reminding the raucous rock milieu where its roots lay. A kaleidoscopic memorandum on the manifold virtues and mysteries of love, it intones that "No one really knows / How deep true love flows" through the endless veiled alleyways it travels. Downbeat, heavy, and appropriate to much of the composer's pensive materials, we leave with a sigh and a tear, wrapped in thought and a little less arrogant than our media-perverted habits brought us to the disc with.

If you find yourself wanting a return to the golden days of rock alloyed with a savvy temper of the times, you couldn't do better than Magical Thinking. As the Baby Boom generation ages, this CD provides retrospective and revival; to the successor X generation, it shows where their times' arts arose from, twisted as they may have become there; and to the newest wave of human beings beginning their journey into the world just beyond or closely bound to the ivied halls, it demonstrates why the amalgamation of folk, rock, and poetry have enjoyed such a phenomenal success in so many cultures for the last four decades. Magical is that rarest of beasts, a full work of art that neither over- nor underachieves while speaking to all sections of its audience, reminding the listener what a single mind can achieve and that it can do so from our own collective back yard.

Track List:

  • A Man Stands Up
  • Prophet in his Prime
  • Wreck the Bed
  • Us and Them
  • Strut
  • Fool in Love
  • That's All Right
  • Loaded Question
  • Ezmerelda
  • Sufficient
  • The Fire and the Rose
All songs by JP Jones.

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2006, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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