Jon Zeeman has a cool sound. His previous release, Down On My Luck, dropped back in 2013. I know this because it’s still on the front page of his website. Fortunately, now, he’s got a reason to update that page with his new release on Membrane Records, Blue Room.
Blue Room has all the ingredients that most blues lovers crave: solid guitar work, good vocals, tight rhythm section, and fun lyrics. Zeeman contributed most of the lyrics, writing seven of the 10 songs by himself and co-writing one more. The only two covers are of a Robert Johnson song, and one by Jimi Hendrix.
The album also features the late great Butch Trucks drumming on two numbers. I cannot say for certain that these were the last recordings that Trucks worked on, but if not, they are among the last. He does an amazing job on each of the two songs (All I Want Is You and Next To You) and as a memorial gesture to his friend, Zeeman is donating half of the proceeds of those two songs to benefit Trucks’ family and his charity, The Big House Museum in Macon, Georgia.
Aside from Zeeman on guitars and vocals and Trucks on drums for those two songs, he is joined by Tom Regis and Bob Taylor on keyboards; Phil MacArthur on bass; and George Lilly on drums. Zoe Zeeman plays bass on two songs, Taylor adds congas, and Regis adds percussion.
The album kicks off in high gear with All I Want Is You, one of two songs to feature the late Butch Trucks on drums. Considering Zeeman was a great friend of Trucks, it’s only fitting that two of their last collaborations end up on the album. Zeeman’s guitars are hot and the keyboards by either Taylor or Regis add a deeper dimension to the song. Quick, fun, and fast paced. A winner to start the album.
Next up is Hold On, a slower number that allows Zeeman to play a little more extended guitar. I like the song, but wish they had pumped up the volume on the lyrics a little more. The orchestrations are fine and I can tell the song is good, I just miss some of the lyrics.
One of two songs not written or co-written by Zeeman, Robert Johnson’s Love In Vain follows. It’s so difficult to capture the spirit of a myth, but Zeeman gives it his best effort. His voice is more ethereal here and at the beginning the music is simplified, trying to catch Johnson’s approach. After just a little bit, he starts to move into a style that’s closer to his own. The guitar work is excellent as are the keys and the drums by George Lilly add a different dimension to the song.
Next To You is the second song to feature Butch Trucks on drums. Like their previous collaboration, this is a swinging number and I will be featuring both of them on Time For The Blues. Zeeman’s vocals are playful and Trucks’ drums add a touch of something extra to the song. Listen for Zeeman’s guitar break before he hands it off to the keys, it soars, and you can tell that the band is in the middle of a special moment.
The only other song not written or co-written by Zeeman is Jimi Hendrix’ Still Rainin’, Still Dreamin’. He’s putting his stamp on Robert Johnson and Jimi Hendrix, that really takes a pair, but Zeeman gives it his all. This one is funky, freaky, and as psychedelic as it can be. He makes it work, not by slavishly covering Hendrix, but by finding the things that work for his style of music. There may be detractors out there, but I like this version and think he’s found a good mix of rock, blues, and jazz.
He follows that with If I Could Make You Love Me, a power ballad that lets him stretch out on guitar as well as the vocals. On this number, Zeeman is more focused and more vulnerable – for much of the song he’s crooning the blues old-school style and the effect is so very good. This is another song that should be getting a lot of airplay.
All Alone kicks in with a nice swing beat. The keys carry much of the song building on the rhythm section. Zeeman’s vocals are good, although this is more rock and jazz oriented than the previous song. Nothing wrong with that, just be prepared if you are looking for some serious old-school blues. Zeeman’s experimenting with his sound and taking a journey down a few different musical roads.
He follows up with a little bit of funk on Talking ‘Bout My Baby. This has that late ‘60’s to early ‘70’s groove while still keeping its blues roots. Zeeman is definitely shaking things up a little bit with these last few numbers, maybe trying to prove that he’s got a few tricks up his sleeve. Whatever the motivation, don’t worry about it, just enjoy the approach.
The title track, Blue Room, clocks in at under a minute. It’s a beautiful instrumental, just some solo guitar work that adds more depth to the album. Lovely. Bass player Phil MacArthur co-wrote the closing song, Nothing In The World, with Zeeman. It’s some funky blues that will get you moving and grooving. The lyrics are pure blues and the music is a lot of fun and more indicative of the latter half of the album, rather than the first half. I think it’s kind of a STAX-y and yeah, I’m going to play it as well.
Zeeman is one of those artists that shouldn’t be pigeonholed. Yes, he plays blues, and he plays them very well, but he also explores, rock, jazz, and funk. I always appreciate those artists that like to travel down different roads, but realize that not everybody appreciates those efforts.
There’s plenty of blues for the blues lover, and plenty of hints as to what else Zeeman might play live. I have the feeling that a live show of his would be quite the experience. Check out Blue Room, his other releases, and any possibilities of a tour at his website: http://www.jonzeeman.com/.