Jeff Jensen – Wisdom & Decay | Album Review

Jeff Jensen – Wisdom & Decay

Swingsuit Records

10 songs – 48 minutes

Anyone who’s seen him in person knows that singer-guitarist-producer Jeff Jensen is one of the most entertaining performers in the blues, and his balls-to-the-wall energy comes through full force on this collection of seven emotion-drenched originals and three interesting covers.

Jensen holds nothing back as he deals with subjects that cover the full gamut of human emotion – from loss of a loved one to addiction to the general roadblocks that stand in everyone’s way as we try to make progress in life.

Like most musicians in the industry, he knows the pitfalls well. A native Californian, his own life fell apart while living in Portland, Ore. He found his center after moving to Memphis, where he joined harmonica player Brandon Santini’s band, about seven years ago. After paying his dues as a sideman, he served as Santini’s band leader, producing his CD, This Time Another Year, which was edged out by a release from Trampled Under Foot’s Badland for 2014 Blues Music Association contemporary album of the year.

Jensen went on his own after about two and a half years, and he’s been touring relentlessly out of the Bluff City ever since, fronting a three-piece unit that delivers intense blues laced with heavy soul, jazz and roots overtones. He’s backed here by his regular touring ensemble – longtime bassist Bill Ruffino and drummer David Green.

They’re augmented by Chris Stephenson (Joe “King” Carrasco and Ghost Town Blues Band) and Gerald Stephens on keyboards, James Cunningham on percussion and a horn section composed of Kirk Smothers (saxes) and Marc Franklin (trumpet and flugelhorn). Reba Russell and Victor Wainwright both make guest appearances on vocals, as do Brian Hawkins, Jared Dover and Aron Shier. And Jessie Munson, Wen Yin Yu, Beth Luscombe and Iren Zombor also appear on three cuts as a string quartet.

The action opens with a power blues introduction for Little Milton’s “I’m Living Off The Love You Give” before quickly settling into a horn- and guitar-driven stop-time soul send up that would make its master smile. It’s a plea for the lady to remain forever at the singer’s side because, if she were to split, it would be like murder in the first degree.

A syncopated rhythm pattern propels the haunting “2000 Days,” which describes a drug-addicted man who’s “living, but his soul is dead.” Fortunately, the title cautiously refers to the time he’s been clean. Next up is the poignant “Pretend Forevers.” It’s a bittersweet ballad that deals with the loss of a lady, but it’s delivered in such a way that it doesn’t matter who the person might be. The sound brightens dramatically as the theme takes an immediate 180 for soulful “Good Woman Back Home.”

Jensen’s jazzy side comes to the fore for a cover of “Downtown.” Not the Petula Clark hit from the ‘60s, this one is the song written by Tom Waits that sings praise of the inner city, and Jeff and his crew reinterpret it while maintaining Waits’ smoky edge. It leads into “Luck Is Gonna Change,” an uptempo number that takes you to church aided by a choir as the singer seemingly has done everything wrong in life, but still remains witty and optimistic with hope for a positive outcome.

“What We Used To Be” is an interesting walking blues. It’s somewhat of a political statement, but with the decaying of society rather than politicians themselves. It’s delivered with a hint of Scott Joplin feel. A cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” before the two cut combination of “Something In The Water” and “The Water Jam/Something In The Water Revised” bring the album to a close.

Available though all major retailers, Wisdom & Decay is a pleaser from the jump – full of modern blues for modern times, fresh takes on familiar themes throughout.

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