Dennis Jones – Soft Hard & Loud
Blue Rock Records – 2020
10 tracks; 41:38
Singer/guitarist/songwriter Dennis Jones doesn’t hide his classic rock influences on Soft Hard & Loud, his seventh album. But he also doesn’t use rock history as a crutch, instead creating his own original blues rock that sounds effortlessly liquid, but also deliberately thoughtful.
Jones, an L.A.-based guitarist, born in Monkton, Maryland, came to the blues after realizing it was the root of so much of the music he loved. His sound, especially his voice, is blues-influenced, and while he’s certainly capable of playing straight blues, you hear a wide range of styles on Soft Hard & Loud, from rock to reggae to metal. The various genres all hang together in a fun way, reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix in that the blues is an organizing principle for a flood of different types of music. While Jones tips his hat to Hendrix, and is open about his Hendrix influence, he’s got his own sound.
There are blues rock tracks like “Front Door Man,” with its Stevie Ray Vaughan bounce, Jones’ guitar riff leading the song through its paces while he playfully takes on Howlin’ Wolf’s classic “Back Door Man,” refusing to sneak around for an affair: “I ain’t afraid of your man / I ain’t sneaking around the back.” “When I Wake Up” is a slow-for-Jones blues with lots of metal crunch in his guitar tone, and even some glam rock in the mind-bending guitar solo. But his soulful voice is pure blues, giving the song emotional depth. Jones could have used familiar blues licks and he’d still have a solidly standard song, but by emulsifying his influences so thoroughly, he creates something new and surprising.
Jones also takes on styles you wouldn’t expect. “I Hate Hate” is reggae a la Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer Mak’er.” “Nothin’ On You” is soulful pop, with Jones singing uncannily like Hendrix. “Like Sleep” has an AC/DC crunch and “Burn the Plantation Down” is punk blues. There’s no way to generalize the style, as Jones pulls in so many influences and then exports them through his own sensibility. He makes it sound easy, but when you go back to break down all that he’s synthesizing, you realize it’s amazingly intricate work.
Jones is more blues rock than pure blues, but Soft Hard & Loud has plenty of great blues moments. Jones folds in everything he hears and uses his power trio, often enhanced with keyboard, to focus a wide beam of music into something as precise as a laser. Soft Hard & Loud owes a lot to classic rock, but Jones and his band bring those beloved sounds into modern times.