10 tracks / 45:53
There are a lot of reasons why bands head into the studio: to make a name for themselves, to make a little money – maybe even to make their fans happy and provide entertainment. The Jon Spear Band from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia has not forgotten these last two things, and their debut release, Old Soul, is a stone cold cool collection of blues, soul, rock, and a touch of country.
The band is a talented quartet with more than enough experience and creativity to get the job done. Jon Spear is the leader and main songwriter for the band, and on this record he provides guitar and vocals. He was joined in the studio by Dara James (also on vocals and lead guitar), John Stubblefield on the skins, and Andy Burdetsky on bass. For a small group they have a big sound, and you will like what they have to offer on this collection of nine originals and one awesome cover tune. Besides their more obvious talents, they also give back to the art and are active participants in the Central Virginia Blues Society.
They kick off with a slow and funky groove on “I Can’t Help Myself.” Right off, it is apparent that the backline of Burdetsky and Stubblefield is as tight as can be, and they provide a solid foundation for the rest of the album. The vocals are sweet and really clear which makes it easier to understand the lyrics, which are a funny account of a man who is stricken with love at first sight. If you listen carefully, you will hear some tasteful conga work from guest artist Nate Brown.
The title track is one of the slickest numbers on the album, and it is more radio-friendly than most songs you will hear on modern blues albums. “Old Soul” is a smoky mid-tempo burner featuring fabulous sax lines courtesy of D.C jazz saxophone legend, Ron Holloway. The story of a young woman that is mature beyond her years is full of vibrant imagery, and Spears paints a vivid image of the scene.
“Mean Mean Woman” has some nifty fast-paced calypso and Latin beats as the singer bemoans ever getting involved with the wrong person. Staying with the theme, it is backed with “Paid in Full,” the story of a long time love that has gone terribly wrong. The vocals are soulful and take advantage of cool backing harmonies on this powerful ballad. It is all about the lyrics on this one, but they make time for a rocking guitar solo that works naturally into the flow of the tune.
These fellows are able to cut loose and have a little bit of fun, too, and there is a fair share of lighter-hearted music to be found on Old Soul. “The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese” is a swing tune with killer harmonica from Dara, a fun walking bass line, and a reminder that patience is a virtue. There is very tasty country blues and a wonderful message to be found on “I Love My Skin.” The Dobro comes out and heartstrings are tugged as we get the dog’s point of view “Forever Home.” Lastly, “Live Music is Better” is a not so subtle gig plug for those of us who should get out to the clubs more often. Despite their more whimsical themes, each of these songs is chock-full of fine musicianship and solid songwriting.
The set closes out with the sole cover on the release, an epic take on Jimmy Wilson’s 1953 hit, Tin Pan Alley” (which was also covered majestically by Stevie Ray Vaughan). This is an eight-minute blues-rock jam that has plenty great guitar tones from the talented Spear and James, a tastefully restrained groove, and vocals that find the right blend of emotion and power. This song is a classic, and the boys do not disappoint as they really bring it home.
This is a strong debut from the Jon Spear Band, and throughout all ten tracks they present top-shelf musicianship, mature songwriting, and a most importantly, a good time for the listener. Check it out for yourself, and if you are around Old Dominion this spring or summer click on their website for their gig schedule so you can see them in person!