Jason Robert – The Death Of Stone Stanley
12 tracks; 46 minutes
Former front man for the Californian band Stone Stanley, guitarist Jason Robert has released his first solo album, a mix of seven originals and five traditional blues/gospel tunes. Jason plays guitar, drums and kalimba and handles all vocals; two of his band-mates from the new Jason Robert Band join him, Scott Longnecker on bass and, on two tracks, Jim McComas on lead guitar and harmonica.
As befits the title of the album, the palette is generally dark and sombre, not least with two of Blind Willie Johnson’s gospel tunes: “John The Revelator” adds Jim’s electric guitar to a slowed down, chugging rhythm though “Soul Of A Man” is played at a more sprightly pace, with Jason on resonator – a good version of a very well known song. Jason’s vocals work well, a touch of grit suiting the mood created here. “You Gotta Move” is usually credited to Mississippi Fred McDowell though it dates much further back. Jason’s version is stripped back and played at a slow pace, emphasizing the traditional Christian message. Another nod to Mississippi Fred comes in “Woke Up This Morning”, a funereal dirge which Jason suggests is about the death of Stone Stanley, now awakening on a distant shore – a metaphor for his own new career beyond the band? The fifth cover, “Moonshiner”, is an Irish folk song that dates back to the late 1800’s, the longest track here at over five minutes and the closest to a full band sound with Jim’s harp and attractive lead work to the fore.
The originals are all just Jason, sometimes with bassist Scott. “Someday” opens the album with a hopeful message about casting off the chains that bind us and looking to a future after our time on Earth, very much in line with the messages in the Blind Willie songs. Jason suggests that we need to stop worrying about the divisive tones of our politicians and concentrate on what we have to hand – sunshine, ocean, love – “All I Need”, indeed. The dark “Mr Bell” recounts the tale of a notorious mining camp boss but could also represent death, the enemy that awaits us all in the end. Similarly dark is “Never Gonna Die” which Jason sees as ‘a more aggressive way of echoing similar thoughts to Bind Willie Johnson’s “Soul Of A Man” and certainly the electric guitar work here has more attack than the acoustic tracks. “Hereafter” then contemplates what may await us in the afterlife and the result does not seem altogether positive!
Among these dark songs “Sat Around” is a gentle acoustic song about unrequited love and “Good Vibes” sounds positively light-hearted with its lyrics about simple pleasures set over an island rhythm. The phrase “just let the rough side drag, it just might smooth” is a quote from Jason’s grandfather that sums up the song.
This reviewer was not familiar with Stone Stanley’s music but Jason Robert can certainly play the blues, solo and accompanied. It will be interesting to hear what the new band produces when it releases a new project in 2020.