Jay Kips Band – How To Polish Your Longhorns
How To Polish Your Longhorns is the 2017 debut record from Ontario based harmonica lead Jay Kipps Band. Longhorns has a throwback 70’s Roots Rock sound akin to Lynard Skynard, Marshall Tucker Band and J.J. Cale (they cover “The Breeze”). This record has a mellow medium tempo vibe that runs through songs of love, tradition, rural life and fidelity. Kipps is a tender singer and harmonica player who writes all but the Cale cover. Guitarist Chad Burford is steady and consistent. Rhythm section Chris Lubker, bass, and Cory Bruyea, drums, stay locked in with Burford throughout creating a straightforward unobtrusive base.
A loose concept album, How To Polish Your Longhorns has very distinct packaging and art work of the band in old-timey costume and settings. Bookend instrumentals “Colt 45” and “Surffarie” bring the spaghetti western sound and with the short harp blast of “Harp Bomb” keep the Cowboy concept going. The other songs on the record work well with each other and fit together but do not fit the theme. Medium tempo, “Strange Brew” sounding, “Rotten Apple Blues” is hoppy and bouncy.
“Everyone But Me” has the same type of jumping rhythm and tempo, but minor chord this time. Alternate chords for the chorus, a 90’s Alt Rock progression, gives “Everyone” a nice nuisance and breaks up the hypnosis of the medium tempo hop. Background vocals by Strawberry Sunshine (Maddie Ball) also add great texture on this track and a number of others. “Hard Core” is melancholic and at the same slow to medium tempo with nice simple slide offered by Stewart Gunn. The tempo is lifted on “Big Old Engine” and the most rocking track on the record “Sinister” (with obligatory cowbell).
There are two live tracks. The original spoken word “Gonzo” is a cry to Hunter S. Thompson’s ghost to help make sense of the current world. This track is an outlier and the in-your-face spoken word performance is jarring in contrast to Kipps’ normal tender tenor. The live performance of “They Call Me The Breeze” has the same rhythm hop as the studio tracks and puts the band’s own stamp on this bar band staple. The live tracks work well in the sequence of the record and sound in line with the studio tracks, which is not always easy to do.
The music of Longhorns is more transparent, less layered and more rhythmically open than the famous 70’s bands it is indebted to, due to being mostly medium tempo, having restrained on-the-beat rhythm and slightly muted production. The sound of this record, the production quality and mellow performances are either intentionally simplistic or belie a lack of recording experience. However, album highlight “The Only Reason” stands out and transcends the other tracks. Its a tender ballad with a 50’s doo wop structure that gives way to a big chorus finish. With spiked ukulele from Erin Kipps and cello from Lillian Penn, “The Only Reason” is Kipps’ most impassioned vocal performance and breaks free of the medium tempo and locked in rhythm.
How To Polish Your Longhorns is a fine first album. The strength of Kipps’ singing and songwriting point to continued artistic development and make Longhorns a solid first chapter in his journey. Since this record was released in 2017 it would be great to hear how this band has developed and grown in the past 3 years.