Album review

Paul Jones – ‘The Blues’

Paul Jones – The Blues

(Umbrella Music PJBROLLYLP1 – Review by Bruce Lindsay)

What does a musician, singer and songwriter with a recording career that’s almost 60 years long do when a pandemic draws a halt to live performances? Paul Jones spent some of the time thinking about his back catalogue and decided to produce a compilation album featuring some of the best of these songs, all rooted in the blues. The album is titled, with admirable clarity, The Blues and it’s a superb collection of 21 songs, all written or co-written by Jones and covering his career from 1963 onwards. It’s been a successful career, and a varied one: fronting a major 60s pop group (Manfred Mann), writing and performing the theme song for legendary TV music show Ready Steady Go, acting on Broadway and in movies and, as this album shows, performing some excellent self-penned blues songs with the Manfreds, as a solo artist and as a founder-member of The Blues Band.

That theme song is here (“5, 4, 3, 2, 1”), as are another six songs by Manfred Mann, along with seven from The Blues Band and another seven from Jones’s solo albums or with guitarists Mick Pini or Guido Toffoletti. Jones has programmed them consistently: a rotation of a Manfreds song followed by a solo track followed by a Blues Band number. Most of the songs are immediately recognisable as blues songs, others wear their blues structures less obviously, showing Jones’s writing and performing talent as he builds on and expands his much-loved 8 or 12-bar formats. Take “The Dog Presides,” for example, recorded at Abbey Road in the late ‘60s and dedicated to EMI’s famous emblem, Nipper. In his sleeve notes Jones describes it as a “psych” number, a sound that seems largely due to Peter Asher’s production. The session players are worth a mention: Yardbirds band member Paul Samwell-Smith on bass, Jeff Beck on lead guitar and Paul McCartney on drums.

Jazz is here as well, including Mike Hugg’s vibes on a couple of Manfred Mann numbers and the big band sound of “It’s Got to be the Blues” (from the Blues Band’s Brassed Up album) arranged by Peter King and featuring Guy Barker, Alan Skidmore and Nigel Hitchcock among others. In contrast, there’s “Sonny Boy Williamson,” a slow, mournful but fitting acoustic tribute to the second Sonny Boy who died in 1965, a year before Jones and Jack Bruce wrote and recorded this number. It’s strongly reminiscent of Williamson’s “Mighty Long Time” and the combination of Jones’s voice and harmonica (both of which are exceptionally strong across the album) and Bruce’s double bass is beautifully realised. Even if, as Jones admits, the lyrics have ‘shortcomings,’ it’s an affecting song.

For this review I received the vinyl version of The Blues, a well-packaged double album with high quality sound reproduction. It’s also available as a CD or download or via streaming services.

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