Sometimes it’s the packaging that catches my eye and moves an album to the top of the review pile. Especially those acts that are new to me – the extra boost of some fancy artwork just might be what it needs to get noticed.
That was the case with Joshua Jacobson, who just dropped a fun acoustic Piedmont style album, Good Little Thing. The cover art is by Frederick Carlson and is done in the R. Crumb style. If you’ve ever seen Crumb’s beautiful portraits of old-time blues artists you will recognize the style immediately.
Plus, he’s got a Crumb-esque woman dancing off to the side. No one draws thighs like Crumb, but these are close.
A little bit of research turns up Jacobson’s impressive resumé and I’m getting interested in hearing what he’s got. Firing up my CD player, I’m quickly transported to a different time, when blues like these ruled the bandstands and acoustic shows might not have all of the different instruments at any given time.
Jacobson is a heck of a songwriter, penning seven of the thirteen songs on the album, including the opening half-dozen. The others are written by the likes of Curley Weaver, Tampa Red, and Blind Willie McTell. There’s even a traditional gospel number to end the album.
Jacobson sang the lead vocals and played a variety of guitars, including six and twelve strings as well as some slide guitar. He was joined on various songs by Dickie Betts on electric guitar; Damon Fowler on slide guitar and backing vocals; Matt Walker and Pedro Arevelo on stand-up bass, Bouzouki, and background vocals; Aaron Fowler on percussion, washboard, and backing vocals; Jeffrey “Jeff” Arevelo on percussion; Clark Stern on piano; Chris Flowers on piano and backing vocals; Mookie Brill on harp; Hill Roberts on stand-up bass and backing vocals; and Allan Jolley on banjo.
The Jacobson originals tend to deal with modern problems with old-school blues. The album kicks off with Baby’s Mama Really Don’t Care, and while the language may be modern, the sentiments are probably as old as time. It’s the second longest song on the album and one of only two to crack 5:00. Chris Flowers really does a great job on the piano.
He follows up with a short song, Codependent Katie that makes the most of his guitar and Brill’s harp to create a mournful sound. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a blues song with the word “codependent” in the title, but it’s one with which many of us can identify.
Some slow piano opens up Long Lonesome Day and the song is a great controlled number that gives Jacobson a chance to bare his emotions through his vocals.
Pistol Packin’ Papa features the great Dickey Betts on electric guitar. Don’t get too hung up on tradition, just enjoy the sound that Betts brings to the song. It’s just a little different flavor and it seems right at home, just maybe a little jazzier than the other songs.
This is the song that I think Carlson was trying to capture for the cover. Twerkin’ Lil’ Mama is a bouncy song (sorry, I couldn’t resist) and I can only imagine the dancers that this song has inspired. The lyrics are fun and you have to have fun with it.
The last Jacobson song (for a while), Bipolar Mama is the story of a woman with a mood disorder and the blues that causes her and the people around her. It’s a sad song and the orchestration underlies that with rapid drums underneath some washboard percussion. Interesting effect.
The first non-Jacobson written song is Curley Weaver’s Ticket Agent. He’s got some good swing on the song and the use of Jolley’s banjo changes the focus of the song nicely.
Willie Cobbs’ You Don’t Love Me follows. It was a regional hit when it was first released, but copyright issues kept it from being a bigger hit. Jacobson delivers tight vocals and Brill’s harp adds a lot to the music. It’s a decent number and while it was originally an R&B song, here it has more than a little country flavor added.
Next up is Jacobson’s version of Tampa Red’s It’s A Good Little Thing. He strips down the sound even further to guitar, stand-up bass, piano, harp, and vocals. He does a good job of capturing Red’s unique sound.
Hide Me In Thy Bosom was written by Thomas Dorsey and he recorded it with the Dixie Hummingbirds. It’s been covered by a number of other artists, but Jacobson captures the feeling of tent revival with its joyous feeling. It’s a good, over-the-top feeling sound that just might put a smile in your face and your hand reaching out to add something to the collection plate.
Next up is another Jacobson original, Mind Blowin’ Blues. This is a little darker than his earlier songs and it tells a more involved story. Jacobson plays the slide on this one and does a pretty good job on it.
Blind Willie McTell’s Baby It Must Be Love follows. This is one of the swingingest numbers on the album. It’s a great time and I can just imagine Jacobson playing this one live – it’s got to be a real crowd pleaser. That’s Stern on the piano and he turns in a great performance.
Jacobson closes out the album with the traditional gospel tune, Cross The River Of Jordan. He goes for an old-school interpretation of the song keeping the music limited to his guitar and Fowler’s percussion. To me, it sounds like it was performed at the riverside, just two players presiding over an all-day baptism. It’s a very good song, and one that captures that country sound in all its glory.
Not everyone likes the same blues, and there are a lot of fans of players who can tear up their guitar and deliver great long solos full of effects. Nothing at all wrong with that, but if I had to listen to just one style of blues, I would find myself getting bored right quick.
I like that country sound a lot. I also like players who can shred a guitar. I like players that mix their blues with jazz. I think it’s healthy to listen to as many styles of blues as you can get your hands on. And it’s not easy to find that many Piedmont style players who are turning out albums with this kind of production values.
Put Joshua Jacobson on your radar, I guarantee he’ll be on mine. I’ll be dropping a smattering of his songs into some upcoming episodes of Time For The Blues, so be sure to listen for them. I enjoyed Good Little Thing a lot – and I’ll be watching http://joshuajacobson.net/ to see where he might be playing next. You might want to do the same.