Jon Shain and FJ Ventre – Never Found a Way to Tame the Blues | Album Review

Jon Shain and FJ Ventre – Never Found a Way to Tame the Blues   

Flyin’ Records

CD: 12 Songs, 43 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Roots, Americana, Harmonica Blues, All Original Songs

What is the essence of the blues,? At its heart, it’s wild music. It won’t do for sedate background tunes at a wedding rehearsal dinner or the soundtrack of a perky rom-com. Nor will it satisfy the needs of commuters at Starbucks or shoppers at Target. North Carolina’s Jon Shain and FJ Ventre know this well. They’ve Never Found a Way to Tame the Blues, because it can’t be tamed. On twelve original selections, they clearly demonstrate this tenet. Despite vocals that are a touch too flat from our protagonists, their seasoned musicianship shines through. There’s a thoroughness to the album, no slapdash effort but the combination and culmination of two veteran talents. Case in point? Shain and Ventre started playing music together in 1982, when they met in high school. (I myself was three years old at this time.)

This CD meshes hard rockers such as the opener, entitled “Lord Have Mercy,” “Overnight from Memphis,” and the seventh track, “Sinking Ship,” with mellower offerings like the title track and low-down, throw-down, ragtime-influenced numbers like “Outraged.” Americana and roots music are seamlessly blended with pure blues for a mighty tasty brew. Some listeners may crave a lot more guitar and a lot less fiddle, but hold up. The latter is magnificent. Ever heard of the Nouveaux Honkies? They’d be proud to hear Anne Harris’ instrument of choice, and so will you. When blues and country get together, magic happens.

Jon grew up in Haverhill, Massachusetts, a Merrimack River mill town that had already seen its better days by the time he was a child in the 1970s. His family’s business was a small textile dyeing company, and he worked in the factory during the summers throughout his teens. At the same time, Shain began to discover his love of American roots music and songwriting, specifically drawn to the narratives about regular people and themes of social justice.

He’s released eight studio albums, working with studio luminaries such as Dave Mattacks, Tom Dube, and Chris Stamey, along the way. As a guest artist, Jon has recorded with Jim Avett, Greg Humphreys, Dana Kletter, and many others and his instrumental music has been placed in several documentary films and commercials, as well as on shows on the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet.

Performing alongside Mr. Shain (acoustic, electric and lap-steel guitar, mandolin, lead and backing vocals) and Mr. Ventre (upright and electric bass, percussion, keyboards, lead and backing vocals, and electric guitar on “The Endless Sea”) are Dave Mattacks on drums, cymbals and percussion; the aforementioned Anne Harris on fiddle; Rissi Palmer on duet vocals for “Keep Your Head Above the Water,” and Bob Beach on harmonica for “Lord Have Mercy” and “Overnight from Memphis.”

Standout tracks include “Overnight from Memphis,” featuring a razor’s edge in terms of vibe and guitar glory; the delightful duet “Keep Your Head above the Water,” and the relaxing “Rosetta,” featuring a clever pun: “Oh, my sweet Rosetta, won’t you roll away the stone?”

On balance, Shain and Ventre’s latest is a cut above good and a cut below great: a solid, meaty T-bone!

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