15 songs – 71 minutes
Usually, the press kit accompanying a CD release provides biographical information on the artist or band, together with details of the musicians who played on the album, who wrote the songs and where they were recorded. Alternatively, one might find this information on the artist’s website. In a novel approach to promotion, however, the only significant biographical data that one can glean from Mike Ross’s press kit and website is that Jenny’s Place is named after a summer home owned by Ross’ wife in northern Sweden and that he is originally from the North East of England and now lives in Sussex in the south of the country.
What we can say is that Mike Ross is an English guitarist/singer and Jenny’s Place is his second solo album, featuring nine studio songs and six live “bonus” tracks. The fact that the press kit includes a complimentary comment from the UK heavy metal magazine Kerrang! might lead one to infer that that Ross’s music is at the heavier end of the blues-rock spectrum, and one would be correct. This is “blues” music as played by the likes of Aerosmith or The Rolling Stones. Nobody disputes that they love the blues: it’s simply that they don’t play it particularly well. The blues no doubt informs the music they write and they play, but that resulting music is not itself blues.
The songs on Jenny’s Place are all well-recorded and Ross sings with an appealing, road-worn timbre to his voice. It is difficult however to ever shake the feeling that this is old-time blues-rock that works best in a live setting, ideally in a small, smoky bar on a Friday or Saturday night. The loping bounce of “The Big Picture” wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Rod Stewart or Faces album. The extended, heavily-overdriven and processed guitar solo on “Dakota Red” gives the entire song a jam-band feel. The shuffle of “Coffee Can Telephone” borrows the vocal melody of Chuck Berry’s “Rock And Roll Music”, while “Jenny (Sun Goes Down)” has echoes of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (as does “Your Life Or Mine” amongst the bonus tracks). “Harpo” nods its head towards its blues influences, recalling ZZ Top’s “La Grange” with added slide guitar.
Ross adopts a less-distorted tone at the beginning of the slow, minor-key, Zeppelin-esque “Dark Powder”, which is very effective, as is the way the band shakes up the groove of the song around six minutes’ in. This track is probably the closest Ross comes to playing the blues on Jenny’s Place.
The six bonus tracks all come from Ross’s first album, Spindrift. “Questions” is a moving slow blues-rock number that recalls the Black Crowes, while “Fixin’ To Die” is an upbeat rockabilly number. The slow old school soul of “Lazy” is a highlight of the album with a lovely organ solo. The discordant, descending chord progression and edge-of-control solo of “Ran Thru Here” are reminiscent of Jimmy Page. The patter at the end of the song also reveals an easy warmth and ready wit.
If you like the classic rock or blues-rock of the likes of The Groundhogs or Humble Pie, you will find a lot to like in Mike Ross. If you’re looking for some blues, however, you should look elsewhere.