I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with live recordings. When you record in a studio, you can control the acoustics, you can do multiple takes of a song, you can work as many hours as necessary to get the album as perfect as humanly possible.
Not so with a live recording. You are limited to the one moment, the actual “live” event forever captured on record.
And that is where the magic can happen.
Okay, even with a live record, occasionally a band will take the show then retreat into a studio to sweeten the sound or tweak a song, or even just drop one. Big name acts record several shows and then cobble them together like Victor Frankenstein piecing together his monster.
About a year ago, I was the emcee at a festival where the Jon Spear Band was playing. It was casually mentioned that their next CD was going to be a live album and they were working on the logistics at that time.
My smile froze at that moment and all those love/hate thoughts bubbled up to the surface. Thank goodness that their new release LIVE MUSIC IS BETTER has dispelled all those doubts as they have turned in a pristine performance that showcases the bands uniqueness.
Recorded live at The Southern Café and Music Hall in Charlottesville Virginia (a most beautiful city if you’ve never been) in November of 2015, this CD would make a welcome addition to any blues lovers collection and several songs will be spinning on Time For The Blues.
If you’re not familiar with the Jon Spear Band, they are one of the hardest working, hardest rocking bands in the Central Virginia area. Their first album, Old Soul (also self-released) is definitely worth finding and we’ve played several cuts on the show. Their line-up consists of Jon Spear on guitar, vocals, and chief songwriter; Andy Burdetsky on bass; frequent co-writer Dara James on lead guitars; and John Stubblefield on drums. They were joined on this album by Adrian Duke on keyboards and Haywood Giles on sax.
The band performed five of their original songs and included many of the most requested covers that have been a part of their live shows. The result was a high energy 12 song performance that captures the essence of the band and leaves you with the desire to catch them live.
The album kicks off with a very cool rendition of their own Devil’s Highway, and James’ vocals are sharp and the guitars are haunting. I’m starting to relax my concerns about the acoustics and the mic’ing of the instruments just a little bit. By the time the band stretches out and take their leads, I’m completely ready just to enjoy this record and let the magic wash over me.
James’ guitar brings us in to Nothing To Nobody, the first song to feature special guests Adrian Duke and Heywood Giles. The song has a nice old-school nightclub crooning feel to it. James’ vocals are nice and the band is very tight on this number.
Okay, you just have to love the fun that is Shake Your Boogie. Spear gets behind the microphone and James picks up his harp and the band kicks into a fun funky groove. Love this song. Giles’ sax takes an extended lead as does Duke’s piano and you know the folks at The Southern were dancing hard during the number.
The funk continues with Before The Bullets Fly, a STAX influenced song that again puts James on vocals. The guitar solos by Spear and James soar and the sound is nearly impeccable. It’s a hard driving bass and drum holding down the rhythm. Very good song.
Things slow down a little with the Chicago style instrumental Cissy Strut. Everyone gets a little workout as the band trades licks held together by Duke’s Hammond B-3. I always love to hear it when the band takes on an instrumental as we often take for granted just how good the musicians are.
James’ smoldering guitar run kicks off Have You Ever Loved A Woman and the effect is very strong. This is definitely an old school recording that gives you the feel of a smoky nightclub late at night. It’s one of those songs that gets into your soul.
We’re at the halfway point of the album and my concerns over the sound quality have vanished. I can hear every drumstick and guitar lick perfectly. The acoustics make me feel like I’m in the front row of The Southern, and all I can think about is what the band is going to unleash next. These are four (six if you count the special guests – and you should) dedicated musicians and performers all playing at the top of their game.
Next up is the title track from their first CD, Old Soul, a haunting song written by Spear and delivered beautifully by James. This is one of those rare songs that as you hear it, you see the movie playing in your mind. Loved this song on the first CD and love it more here.
The band gets to rocking with the next number, Blues About You Baby, which has a strong honkytonk feeling. Spear is back behind the microphone and James is doing some slide work and you know the house is jumping for this one.
Special guest Adrian Duke takes over the vocals and adds a distinctive barrelhouse piano to I Love My Skin. This just shows the dedication of the band to put together the best album possible by allowing one of their very talented guest artists to take over the spotlight for a very cool song.
Things slow down considerably with Paid In Full, a heartbreaking number that relies heavily on James’ very expressive voice. This is old school torn up singing – the essence of the blues. It will move you deeply.
There’s a little swing to Beginner At The Blues, a solid number that picks up a little from where the previous song left off. The singer is now moving forward from the last heartbreak and he’s been here before.
Spear steps behind the microphone for the last song, Live Music Is Better. Aside from being the title track to the album, it’s also the philosophy for The Jon Spear Band and for many other bands who play every bar and small theatre, every festival, hell – anywhere they can just to come together and celebrate the music. If you doubt me, I invite you to step out and support the musicians who make the music we love. Go see this band if you can and if you can’t go see another. Go see a band you may not know and you may discover a brand new favorite. Always remember, live music IS better, because you are a part of it.
The blues do not belong to one location. We always hear about “Chicago Blues,” and “Memphis Blues,” “Delta Blues,” and all the others, but we know that the blues are universal. There are certain sounds, certain motifs that identify a song with a particular style and it is doubtful that anyone will ever write about the “Charlottesville Blues.”
But if someone ever does, it will be because of bands like the Jon Spear Band waking people up to the fact that every locality has great musicians who find their way to getting together and sharing their music with the rest of us.
Find out more about the group at their website http://www.jonspearband.com/ where you can find out their plans to tour and buy LIVE MUSIC IS BETTER. You’ll be glad you did.