Fifty years on from the famous ‘Beano’ album featuring Eric Clapton with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers Producer Mike Vernon still gets a tingle of excitement when he hears someone bringing something special to the Blues. In 2010 a young Brit named Oli Brown excited Vernon enough to lure him out of retirement – in 2016 another young Brit has caught the great man’s attention. Laurence Jones is the young man in question and ‘Take Me High’ could almost have been what Jones said to lure Vernon back into the studio. the result is one of the best guitar sounds I’ve heard on a disc for years and very possibly the start of something very big indeed.
Not that the attention of a legendary producer is required to get me putting ‘Take Me High’ on my CD player this weekend. Laurence Jones has been on my musical map since his stint on the RUF Blues Caravan what seems like light years ago already. Internet and Blues magazines had told me that Laurence Jones in 2016 was beginning to find his own style visually – slicked back hair and stylish photo-shoots. Did he still have time to hone his chops on the guitar though? A picture inside the new CD’s cover has him reading up on a certain hero named Gary Moore, and having heard the new disc from end to end I find myself wondering if some up-coming rock guitar hero will be pictured with a similar magazine showing Laurence himself on the cover in 30 years time.
Track one certainly flies straight off the disc with a hard driving riff powered number. Straight away the thick production is an attention grabber. Roger Innis’ bass line hits you between the eyes even before the blinding fret bending solo of Mr Jones takes centre stage. There’s a ‘no prisoners’ air about both men’s playing. ‘Something’s changed’ gives drummer Phil Wilson a chance to show he’s taking no prisoners either as he delivers a rock solid backing while Laurence sings like a seasoned veteran of some woman’s fickle feelings over a reggae fuelled backbeat.
Track three ‘Live it Up’ takes the pace up a notch. “Live every day like it’s your last” is the advice on offer and the tempo is up with it. When I was Laurence’s age I was wishing to be a little older but here is the man advising me “Don’t wish your time away” and I suspect that if I was Laurence Jones and having the musical time of my life I might just be inclined to enjoy the here and now.
‘Addicted to your Love’ has something of Led Zeppelin about it and a cocky, self-assured vocal that says Laurence Jones is very much living the advice of the previous track. The solo here has a savage intensity that makes me think Mike Vernon was indeed revisiting his Clapton ‘Beano’ days when he put this track down. The bass is pushed so deep that it growls with distortion . I can well imagine young Laurence setting fire to the Fender when this ends – or at the very least using it to slice his amp in half. Monster stuff.
‘I Will’ is almost a relief in it’s straightforward pop style. A pleasantly phrased solo bites into your braincells helped by a chorus that you just know won’t be going out of your head any time soon. Let’s hear the audience joining in the “I Will’s” on this one. I certainly will!
As the title suggests ‘Thinking about tomorrow’ has a reflective air about it. “I knew a girl…” Nice keyboard on this one – ah, King King man Bob Fridzema. That explains it. Time here also to mention how mature the vocals are on this disc. It’s strange to hear someone half my age giving me advice on love and life with such an authoritarian voice. Jones’ ‘voice’ on guitar is equally mature and on this track it’s positively mesmerizing. Great vocal, great guitar, great tune, what stands between Laurence Jones and Pop superstardom? This track suggests he could be up there in charts that are other than coloured Blue.
The funky swagger of ‘Take me High’ again has a determinedly confident guitar presence that reminds, dare I say the J word? Of Jimi. There, I’ve said it. The mood on here to take the solo where he feels like it and damn the rest of the band – follow if you can! Luckily Roger Innis and Jones are almost joined at the hip when it comes to following a groove. Amazing stuff indeed.
‘Down & Blue’ is what it says on the tin. “I got me some pills…” “People always ask me if I’m feeling okay”. If I didn’t know that young Mr Jones was a martyr to Crohn’s disease I’d think this was another ‘drugs n rock n roll’ number. Well, I guess it is just that actually, and I’ve been down this road myself Laurence. Down and Blue indeed. Again a fire and brimstone solo and time to credit Phil Wilson for keeping it all together.
Taking the disc out are two bluesy numbers. ‘The price I pay’ gets some funky harp support from the legendary Paul Jones so plays on Radio 2’s BBC Blues programme are assured but this disc is going to hit more than the late night Blues playlists for sure. ‘Higher Ground’ won’t be mistaken for Stevie Wonder’s original but man oh man is that another titanic guitar solo! Shared vocals with Reuben Richards but there’s enough snarl in the young man’s voice that the added voice isn’t really necessary.
A breathtaking display overall by Laurence Jones. Excellent vocals but really Mike Vernon has got a glorious guitar sound on here, reminiscent more of Clapton in his power trio days than the John Mayall ones, that overshadows everything.
It’s been a couple of years since I last saw Laurence Jones in Portsmouth at the now defunct Cellars where he sounded much better than on his previous release ‘What’s it gonna be’ (and even on that CD the promise was undeniably there). As I write this I hear that ‘Take Me High’ is number one on the Amazon Blues chart and even making waves on the UK Pop Charts where it’s entered the top 200 and makes a welcome change from the tired old greatest hits packages currently plying their dusty trade (Springsteen, Neil Diamond, ELO etc). “I asked Laurence to play each track in the studio as if he had an audience of 1000 in front of him” describes Mike Vernon on the sleeve. Given the ferocity of some of his solos here I can’t begin to imagine what he will sound like actually playing in front of ten times that figure. ‘Take Me High’? On the evidence here, particularly the guitar playing, the sky is the limit.