Jonas Scott Cowan – Parlor Tricks – Exhibit A
10 songs – 32 minutes
Parlor Tricks – Exhibit A is the sophomore release from Indiana-based acoustic country blues singer and guitarist, Jonas Scott Cowan. It’s quite a bold move to open an album with “People Grinnin’ In Your Face” given Son House’s rightly-lauded, emotionally-fraught original, but Cowan, accompanied only by handclaps, carries it off with aplomb. The specter of House can also be heard in “Church Street” with its resonator slide guitar and stomped feet accompaniment, although Cowan cleverly slips in a Chris Smither-esque finger-picked middle-eight to emphasize that he is carving his own path. House, of course, stood with one foot in the blues and the other in the Church, having spent years as a preacher and a pastor before discovering the enticing exhilaration of the blues. Cowan, the son of a Kentucky Baptist minister, wryly acknowledges the myriad bonds between the two cultural constituents in the Robert Johnson-influenced “Evil On My Mind”.
By contrast, the finger-picked “Whisky’d Down Soul” and “Where Has My Sweet Thang Gone” explore a more acoustic rock sensibility with the focus very much on Cowan’s warm, weathered, road worn voice.
Cowan mixes up the instrumentation nicely throughout, overdubbing guitars on tracks like “Maddie Mae” and pulling out a harmonica on the bouncing ragtime of “Low Down Foley Blues” and Richard M. Jones’ classic “Trouble In Mind” but he also makes good use of various guest musicians to add color and depth to his songs. Lacy Jean’s fiddle on “Don’t Come Knockin'” is a particular highlight, while elsewhere Bill Sievern adds superb piano to “1011 Blues”, on which Cowan channels his inner Tom Waits, and Jon Rochner contributes bass.
Parlor Tricks – Exhibit A was recorded, mixed and mastered by Tommy Stillwell at Twin Lakes Sound Studio in Owensboro, KY, and he deserves credit for capturing a very natural, warm and live sound. There is no indication on the album who actually wrote the songs, although the only two covers this reviewer recognized were “People Grinnin’ In Your Face” and “Trouble In Mind”. One suspects the remaining songs were written or co-written by Cowan, since there is consistency both in structures and in the vivid images captured in the smart lyrics. He is also a rock solid guitar player, alternating with facility between slide and standard finger playing.
There is a lot to enjoy on Parlor Tricks – Exhibit A (Exhibit B is due to be released in 2021). This is country blues for the modern age. Clever lyrics in well-constructed songs, fine playing, and great singing. Very nice.