10 songs – 45 minutes
Road Worn And Ragged is Jeff Jensen’s third nationally-distributed album, following Self-Titled in 2007 and I’m Coming Home in 2009 and is a very good demonstration of why Jensen has a burgeoning reputation. Opening with “Brunette Woman”, a loping shuffle that features Brandon Santini’s excellent harmonica, Jensen immediately demonstrates a clever way with a lyric: “I got a brunette woman, though her hair turns red in the sun. Everything was beautiful, until the preacher man said we are one….”
There is a muscular poetry to Jensen’s songs, which is reflected in the playing of the band, which comprises Jensen on vocals and guitar, Bill Ruffino on bass, James Cunningham on drums and Chris Stephenson on organ. The album also features guest appearances from 2013 BMA winner Victor Wainwright on piano and the aforementioned Santini on harp. Jensen himself is a fine guitar player, showing a developed melodic taste in his solos whilst still evoking a range of emotions (especially in the closing song, “Thankful”, where Jensen’s solo perfectly compliments the positive lyrics in its wild abandon after the key change).
The album was recorded “almost live” and primarily produced by Jensen (Wainwright produced four of Jensen’s vocal tracks) at Ardent Studios in Memphis, and he has done a fine job in capturing a live feel to the songs. On Jensen’s second guitar solo in “Brunette Woman”, for example, you can even hear him switching pickups mid-way through, giving the final verse an extra bite.
Jensen moved to Memphis in 2011 from Portland, Oregon, which makes the warm-hearted acoustic shuffle of “Good Bye Portland” all the more personal: “I need a change in this atmosphere. I need a little sunshine more than twice a year…”. If this release is anything to go by, the move hasn’t harmed his creativity either.
The album features a nice mix of originals and covers. Jensen wrote (or co-wrote, either with other musicians on the record – or in the case of “Good Bye Portland”, the Reverend Billy C. Wirtz) six of the ten songs on the CD. The covers are all well-known, but while Tom Waits’ “Heart Attack And Vine” and Muddy Waters’ “Crosseyed Cat” are given relatively faithful re-interpretations, Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster” is turned into an upbeat shuffle and the old Nat King Cole standard (originally written by Razaf and Redman in 1929) “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good To You” becomes a funereal blues, giving an entirely ironic construction to the ostensibly happy lyrics.
There is a lot to enjoy in this album, from the foot-tapping instrumental of “Pepper” to the brutal emotional honesty of the Segar-esque “River Runs Dry.” Indeed, this song may be the emotional core of the CD, as Jensen sings with a suitably road-worn and ragged voice that he thought he had “Got all the answers, but we never do. Blinded by my own point of view. Ghosts from our past can come alive, When that ol’ river runs dry.” It is a beautiful song and graced with a superbly sensitive and emotional vocal performance.
While definitely a blues album, Road Worn And Ragged does lean towards the blues-rock end of the spectrum, so if you are a fan of the likes of Eric Clapton or Chris Antonik, you will certainly want to check it out. But every fan of electric blues will find a lot in this release to enjoy.