Seth Lee Jones – Flathead
9 songs, 39 minutes
The Blues is all about self expression. Some of the most impactful Bluesmen and women are those who developed a distinct, highly unique and instantly recognizable style: Bessie Smith’s Big Bang wail, Otis Rush’s tremulous pulling guitar bends, Howlin’ Wolf’s monumental force of nature growl, Albert Collins’ ice pickin’ open tuning jabs. Blues musicians do well when they find a unique way to express themselves, to channel the ancestors in their own way. Tulsa, OK’s Seth Lee Jones has done that. A luthier with his own SJL guitar company, Jones is a gravely singer with a powerful voice. However, it is his unique guitar technique that makes his new record Flathead stand out. A slide guitarist, Jones uses palm bender pedals installed at the bridge of his guitar along with a volume pedal to create a keening, steel guitar effect. Processed through a warm distortion heavy rig and at times using a reverse effect (think post-Revolver Beatles), Jones plays a style he simply calls “loud guitar.”
Flathead is a live-to-tape covers record of Jones and his power trio of Bo Hallford on bass and Matt Teegarden on drums. This band is a psychically linked unit forged by years of a standing Thursday night gig at Tulsa music institution The Colony. The band has that hard to accomplish balance of air and fluidity crossed with power and thump that classic power trios such as ZZ Top or the Billy Cox/Mitch Mitchell era Jimi Hendirx Experience have. Mike Satawake adds lead work to a few songs creating layers of guitar fun.
Flathead is a flash of inventive reinterpreting of at times well trodden material. Starting with worn out classic “I Can’t Be Satisfied” the listener is in for a surprise. Jones’ unique bag of techniques, facile hybrid slide/fretting and burly tone transport this song. It’s similar to the psycho talented re-imagining of Jimi’s version of “Killing Floor” from the 60’s. Other classics such as Johnny Winter’s “It Was Rainin’” with it’s crazy cool reverse guitar riffage and the Wolf classic “You Gonna Wreck My Life” with it’s lugubrious take on Hubert Sumlin’s iconic style are inventive and surprising.
Where this band really shines is the interpretation of Roots/Americana classics. Roger Miller’s “Half A Mind” is less Cowboy lonesome and more Southern Gothic morose. Don Williams’s “Tulsa Time” (one would imagine being a required cover for all Tulsa based bands) chugs with a reckless zoom with the turn around riff sounding more Prog Rock then Cowboy Jazz. Ray Charles’ “Mary Ann” with help from Satawake, struts forward with a loud hard gate. And the classic “Driving Wheel” interpreted from the Al Green version, replaces the Soul fire of Green with Rock lava.
Seth Lee Jones is a guitar lover. A talented guitar builder and professionally trained guitarist Jones displays an intimacy with the instrument few achieve. Flathead is a spectacularly performed live set. To hear this crew in front of a live audience check out 2018’s Live at the Colony. Working as companion pieces, the records document this uniquely talented musician and his irreverent take on Roots music.