11 songs – 41 minutes
Jordan Officer treads a fine line between jazz, blues, country and traditional rock’n’roll. On his latest release, Blue Skies, he opens the album with his version of Tom Waits’ title track, but eschews Waits’ solo finger-picking in favour of a two guitar backing, one comping and one adding solos and licks, adding a trad-jazz sheen that wasn’t altogether obvious on the original. And it works very nicely, adding a little joie de vivre to the already-excellent original.
As it turns out, this inventive, almost playful approach to the music inhabits the rest of a fascinating album that takes in covers by Waits, Leroy Carr, Bob Dylan, Fats Domino and Phil Spector as well as songs popularised by the likes of The Big Three Trio, Big Joe Turner, Louis Armstrong and Arthur Alexander. Officer himself contributes two instrumentals, the enticingly discordant “Night Flight” and the closing track, “Takin’ Off”, which features the top-notch keyboard talents of Augie Meyers, formerly with the Sir Douglas Quintet and the Texas Tornados.
As on his previous effort, I’m Free, (reviewed in Bluesblast in the January 19 2015 issue), Officer sings and adds his distinctive warm-toned, blues-via-jazz guitar. He is backed by Alain Berge and Tony Albino on drums and Sage Reynolds on bass, with Officer’s old musical partner Susie Arioli adding some backing vocals. The result is an album of mellow jazz-blues.
Officer’s take on “Got You On My Mind” is significantly closer to the Big Three Trio’s hit version than to Delbert McClinton’s later upbeat version, while Dylan’s country-ish “When The Deal Goes Down” is also played relatively straight, albeit with added jazz guitar. Alexander’s “Shot Of Rhythm And Blues” is probably closer to the Beatles’ cover than the original. And “Then She Kissed Me” is given a total makeover, played as an upbeat country song with jazz solo guitar laid over the top and without Spector’s trademark OOT production.
Indeed, Blue Skies has an almost retro production quality, with the drums and bass often quite low in the mix (or not involved at all), which adds to the gentle overall ambiance of the CD.
This is not a blues album, but it is an album with a lot of blues in it. Armstrong’s “That’s For Me” is given a shuffle treatment but doesn’t quite hit the blues groove, primarily due to Office’s over-dubbed counter-point lead guitar. Even Leroy Carr’s “How Long Blues” is closer to jazz than pure blues, in particular on Officer’s chromatic soloing. It is however a very enjoyable album. This reviewer would probably have preferred to hear more originals, but the cover versions are well-chosen and well-played, respectful yet slightly left-field, a trait that should be widely encouraged.
If you’re looking for something new to play late at night, something as smooth as that glass of whiskey in your hand, then you’ll find much to enjoy on Blue Skies.