Jontavious Willis – Spectacular Class
Kind of Blue Music
Produced by Keb Mo, Willis’ second album showcases this young, new blues sensation. After touring with Keb and opening for him on his solo tour earlier this year, the Greenville, Georgia, native has laid down ten new tracks here.
Willis grew up with Gospel, but heard Muddy Waters at 14 and became convinced the blues were alright. It took him four years from that moment to play on stage with Taj Mahal; not too bad! Taj was executive producer for this album. Appearing with Willis are Eric Ramey on bass, Phil Madiera on various keyed instruments, and Keb Mo on electric guitar and mandolin. Thaddeus Witherspoon and Martin Lynds share the duty on drums. Willis sings and plays acoustic guitar, some electric guitar, and the resonator.
“Low Down Ways” gets the juices flowing, a tune with a mix of hill country and a more modern blues. The B3 organ work is well done here and Willis sings with authority as he and Mo play electric guitar. Willis gives us some slide and plays resonator on “The Blues Is Dead?” Andrew Alli plays some mean harp as Willis lyrically answers the question posed while also showing us with his talents that the blues are alive and well. Madeira plays some nice piano here for us and Willis slips and slides as Alli blows his harp. Really good stuff! The ballad “Resting On My Mind” follows. Here we have Willis crooning in this thoughtful and pensive cut. The snare, bass and B3 set the mood as Willis sings; Keb Mo later offers up a little electric guitar solo for us. “Daddy’s Dough” is Delta blues and an old time sound with Alli on harp and Willis on guitar and vocals. WIllis finger picks as Alli huffs and puffs the harp; both play a bit but Willis’ inspired vocals are the feature here. “Friend Zone Blues” is a cool sounding blues with a thumping beat as organ and electric guitars set up the groove. WIllis’ vocals again are outstanding in this slower tempo-ed cut with lyrics about someone who wants to have more of a relationship than being friends but the woman won’t have any part of it. Nice finger picking on electric guitar here by WIllis, too.
“Jon’s Boogie” has an old school 50’s sound as Madeira bangs the keys and organ and Willis and Mo play electric guitar in this slick and fun instrumental. “Take Me To The Country” (just “Country” on the packaging) is a solo piece by Willis. He goes down home in sound and with the lyrics, singing of his home back in the country; nicely done! Next is “Liquor,” a song about, well, drinking. Willis is singing about a friend who is a bit out of control; Willis has such a great grasp on pacing and singing. Nice organ, piano and guitar work, too, on this one. “Long Winded Woman” has Doug Mosher on clarinet and Roland Barber on trombone. It’s a cool, old time New Orleans ragtime cut. Willis sings and picks again as the guests give the cut some nice spice. Things conclude with “The World Is A Tangle,” a song about the world and life as we know it, or at least how Willis sees and feels it. He sings about moving to another country because of all the things going one here. Keb Mo tinkles the mandolin and Madeira plays banjo as Willis plays guitar- a nice threesome of stringed sound. Simple, old time sounds with a fresh and cool presentation.
Willis is the real deal. His album shows us he, at 22, is already a force to be reckoned with in the blues. He has a bright future ahead of him with his fantastic voice and guitar skills. The original songs he’s penned and performed as cool and interesting, telling us stories while entertaining us. I am impressed with Willis and truly look forward to catching him life ASAP- he’s the real deal. Until then, grab his new disc and enjoy the sounds- you won’t be sorry you did!