The best piece of professional advice I ever received was from a famous comedian whom I had been given the pleasure of driving around for a few days while he was visiting my city. I had only been performing for maybe three or four years, and after watching my performance from the back of the room, this comedian proceeded to blow the roof off the joint for over an hour.
On the way back to the comedy condo, he leaned over to me and say the words I’ll never forget, “You know, once you find something you really care about, you’re going to be great. Now let’s go get some waffles…”
I think about that night from time to time and often apply it not only to my life, but also to other artists and of course many of my (now) former students.
What’s that got to do with this review? Well, I first heard Lew Jetton & 61 South a couple of years ago when they released a very cool album called Rain. I liked that album and we played a few cuts from it on the show, but I sensed that there was greatness beneath the surface.
That greatness has been realized with their new Coffee Street Records release, Palestine Blues. Jetton describes the album this way, “Palestine is the community in which I live but it’s also a place of historic significance for being sacred, while at the same time, a place of conflict. That’s kind of where I have been for years. I know a lot of blues is happy and uplifting. This is not. I’m OK with that. I wanted it to be real blues, in the emotional sense…”
The album is stripped down to its barest essentials. Jetton handles the vocals and plays guitar and the other two musicians on all the tracks are Erik Eicholtz on drums and Otis Walker on bass. JD Wilkes plays harp on two tracks. Jetton wrote all of the tracks as he exorcizes the demons of alcohol, drugs, depression, joblessness, frustration, and the spiritual tug of war that has followed him.
The album starts out on a dark note with the burning question, Will I Go To Hell. Jetton’s vocals sound like an old-time country man asking the question of preachers and anyone else who might listen. Wilkes’ harp cuts through the song and it’s a powerful four minutes that makes the listener sit up and pay close attention to the album.
Next up is Oh My My, which has more of a rocking edge than the previous song. Jetton’s vocals still convey weight and pain, but the song is heavier on the rhythm section. The song is a litany of ills and consequence as the man searches for something better, but just isn’t sure he’ll find it.
The slow languid For The Pain follows and while it deals with the darkest subjects, Jetton’s countrified voice offers just a sliver of hope. Musically it has one of the sweetest sounds on the record and it’s easily one of the most powerful. Only three songs in and Jetton is delivering a stellar album of some of the purest blues I’ve heard in a while.
After that is another rocking number, Mexico. At just a shade over five minutes, it’s the longest track on the album. While it’s a good song, coming off of the previous numbers, it just didn’t seem to have the same punch. Of course, dealing with the loss of employment as jobs head overseas and stripping people of hope is pretty powerful in itself.
Jetton follows up on that theme with Sold Us Out, the story of politicians and others who have taken all they can and in return deliver broken dreams. This is the essence of blues, an exploited class who can’t get the proper rewards for their labor. Great song.
A lush song, Drinking Again, is next, and even though this is a trio playing, it sounds like a larger group. Jetton sounds a little like Willie Nelson singing the song, in the best way. It’s a late-night song with him recreating a country Sinatra flavor of a man at closing time. Beautiful guitar break.
Another powerful song, Don’t Need No Devil, follows. This is a perfect blues tune – strong imagery, simple delivery, and it uses the most basic musical format. I’ve already scheduled this one (and a couple of others) for an upcoming show of Time For The Blues. If the album only had this one song on it, and not the other nine, I would still call it a success.
He delivers a powerful intro from the rhythm section on Christ Have Mercy. Just repeating the title phrase over and over again, he intones the help that he needs to be delivered from the demons that plague him. It’s a deeply personal cry, and one many of us have made, usually late at night – or sometime the next morning.
The last couple of songs are the shortest at under three minutes each, starting with Drama. At this point he’s just trying to get by and knows that he can’t do if there is excess drama in his life or games played by the people that surround him. He closes the album with Bout Time, a swinging number in which Jetton has reached a starting point in his life where he can expect, or at least hope that things will start to get better.
I can say, without fear of contradiction, that Palestine Blues will end up on my Best of 2017 list. Lew Jetton & 61 South have crafted a beautiful blues album that is stylistically, musically, and lyrically one of the best I’ve heard in a while.
I think it’s safe to say that Jetton has found something that he cares about and the blues world is a better place for it. Check him out to find the album and his tour schedule at http://www.lewjetton.com/.