(VOTP Records VOTP VOCD 116. CD Review by Chris Parker)
As anyone who attended Billy Jenkins‘s month-long series of Sunday-afternoon blues-duo gigs at the Vortex in 2007 will already know, the south London guitarist/bandleader is adept at using the form as a vehicle to express pungently witty but none the less heartfelt and affecting views on everything from the canine menace stalking our parks and the emotional problems involved with having in-laws to stay to the (non-)existence of God and the poignancy of fleeting brushes with stardom (with special reference to Cliff Richard).
Here, though, Jenkins (the opening original title-track aside) concentrates on the blues/standard repertoire, growling through Ellington staples such as ‘I’m Just a Lucky So and So’ and ‘Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me’, injecting typically idiosyncratic life into the Webster/Burke classic ‘Black Coffee’ (which begins with a nod to ‘Heartbreak Hotel’) and utilising his utterly individual blues whisper to make the thirties hit ‘For All We Know’ (previously recorded by everyone from Hal Kemp to Dinah Washington, and from Barbra Streisand to Joan Baez) completely his own.
Memorably assisted by a crack band (alto player/flautist Finn Peters, organist Jim Watson and drummer Mike Pickering), Jenkins taps into the blues spirit of the likes of Jimmy Smith, Fats Waller collaborator J. C. Johnson (via his Ethel Waters/Billie Holiday song ‘Travellin’ All Alone’) and the man of whose music Jenkins ‘just can’t get enough’, the aforementioned Duke Ellington, to produce an album packed not only with the Bromley bluesman’s trademark scrabbling, eloquent guitar playing, but also with all the punch, power and emotional urgency that have led Claire Martin to comment: ‘He mixes elements of the blues with the spirit of punk rock all beautifully gift wrapped with the joy of jazz’