Jarekus Singleton – Refuse To Lose | Album Review

jarekussingletoncdJarekus Singleton – Refuse To Lose

Alligator – 2014


12 tracks; 53 Minutes

Clinton, Mississippi’s Jarekus Singleton comes to the blues by an unusual route. Like many African-Americans in the South, Jarekus sang and played in church, but as a teenager he concentrated on sports (he was a top-seeded basketball player in college) but refocused on music after injury curtailed a potential sports career. But before the blues Jarekus’ first passion was rap music and there are some traces of that in the way he writes the lyrics to his songs.

Jarekus was spotted performing at the IBCs by Bruce Iglauer who saw something different about his approach to the blues. Recorded in Memphis with Jarekus’ regular band and produced by Jarekus and Bruce, his first CD on a mainstream label certainly demonstrates considerable promise. Jarekus wrote all twelve songs here, two in collaboration with Harrison Sumner. Jarekus sings and plays guitar, James Salone plays organ, Ben Sterling bass and John ‘Junior’ Blackmon drums.

The album opens with “I Refuse To Lose”, an upbeat piece which immediately shows the influence of Jarekus’ early interest in rap (“my soul is my weapon, I won’t conceal it”) as well as some exciting guitar that recalls the late Michael Burks. I had the good fortune to see Jarekus live earlier in the year and that comparison was possibly even stronger in his live show than here but the thrilling style of guitar playing is certainly evident from the start here. “I Refuse To Lose” lays out Jarekus’ determination to follow his star despite the criticisms of ‘friends’ and makes for a solid start.

“Purposely” starts with funky guitar and plenty of swirling organ as Jarekus sings of a failing relationship and takes a short but intense solo. “Gonna Let Go” keeps the funk in place but adds a terrific hook on the chorus.
“Crime Scene” is a slower tune with plenty of striking guitar from the off and some interesting lyrics: “there is no DNA that they need to find…this is a crime scene, baby, but not the kind that’s on your TV; this is a crime scene and the victim is me”. An extended solo at the end gives Jarekus an opportunity to stretch out.

“Keep Pushin’” is an extremely catchy tune with another autobiographical lyric about keeping going against the odds, recounting his injury-struck basketball career and his encounter with the blues. This may be the tune where the comparison with Michael Burks’ guitar style is the most evident and it is one of the strongest cuts on the album.

“Suspicion” ploughs more familiar blues territory as the guy thinks his woman is cheating on him on a tune which keeps the toes tapping. The slow blues “Hell” is a centrepiece of Jarekus’ live shows, the lyrics telling of a relationship in which the narrator suffers and the couple simply cannot talk about their problems, Jarekus’ guitar rising from the mix to mirror the anguished lyrics.

“Hero” returns to a more upbeat rhythm and “High Minded” is a churning blues in which Jarekus sounds pretty cynical about the person who inspired the song: “You want to take a trip to a place you’ve never been. Well pack your bags and go to the kitchen – it’s right beside the den”!

“Sorry” is a catchy little number, Jarekus finding that after all he’s been through, he can’t really feel sorry towards his ex. “Blame Game” is a little different, a downhome blues with no drums, Jarekus playing almost acoustically with Ben on bass, Brandon Santini on harp and Robert ‘Nighthawk’ Tooms on piano.

The album concludes in fine upbeat style with “Come Wit Me”, another strong tune with James’ organ to the fore and Jarekus producing another couple of solos, one super-fast, the second hitting some extremely high notes.

This is a very impressive debut which puts Jarekus well on the way to becoming a major star in the blues. Clearly this CD comes highly recommended.

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