Jim Dan Dee – Jim Dan Dee
11 songs – 38 minutes
Toronto-based Jim Dan Dee released an EP, Five Stiff Shots, back in 2015, but this self-titled release is their debut album. Recorded at RHC Music in Toronto and engineered by Ross Hayes Citrullo, who captured a magnificent sound, it’s a relatively short album, with all 11 songs lasting only 38 minutes. There is no filler or fat however in what is a very enjoyable modern blues-rock album that nestles at the rockier end of the blues-rock spectrum.
The core band comprises James “Jim Dan Dee” Stefanuk on vocals and guitar, Brian McCarthy on bass and backing vocals, Jason “Bobby” Sewerynek on saxophone and Shawn Royal on drums. They are joined by guest artists Jesse Karwat on keyboards and “Sweet” Jules Cordosa on backing vocals.
McCarthy and Royal lay down a series of solid grooves throughout the album, particularly on the slower tracks like “Stand By My Woman”. Stefanuk and Sewerynek share out the lion’s share of the solos between them (Karwat turns in a neat organ solo on “Trying To Get Somewhere”), with Sewerynek also adding fine fills between the vocal lines of songs like “Killer” and “Just Cuz”. Stefanuk is an excellent guitarist with a lot of blues in his playing, but he is also happy play the rock guitar god on tracks like “Walking Shoes”. He is moreover an expressive singer, varying his delivery well. While usually singing in an endearingly ragged baritone (indeed, his performance on the harder rock of “Trying To Get Somewhere” recalls the marvelously frayed roar of Waysted’s Fin Muir), the lovely soul ballad “Just Cuz” sees Stefanuk adopt a surprisingly effective and affecting falsetto.
The majority of tracks lean towards mid-paced rock or 60’s-style soul ballads, although “When You Move Like That There” is based off the old John Lee Hooker “Boom Boom” groove (albeit a very modern blues-rock treatment of the riff). The blues always underpins everything, however, so that even the threatening rock groove of “Killer” is tempered by Stefanuk’s bluesy electric slide guitar.
One of the subtler joys of Jim Dan Dee is Cordosa’s glorious backing vocals. Her voice meshes well with Stefanuk’s, and adds real emotional power to tracks like the gospel-rock opener “Save My Soul” (which also benefits from more searing slide guitar from Stefanuk).
There is not a huge amount of background information provided in the press release that accompanied the album nor on the website, but all 11 songs appear to be self-penned (or, at least, they were not previously familiar to this reviewer). They are however uniformly well-structured, with a mature grasp of dynamics as the band moves easily from a whisper to a roar on tracks like “Treat Me Right” or on the vocal and drum breakdown in “Save My Soul”.
Jim Dan Dee isn’t a blues album, except in the broadest possible sense. Rather it is a soul-rock-roots album with a lot of blues sensibilities. Think of Colin James’ rockier moments or George Thorogood singing “pretty songs”. It is however a very exciting, very enjoyable release that suggests a bright future for Jim Dan Dee.