Monday, May 16, 2016

Jeff Jensen – The River City Sessions | Album Review

Jeff Jensen – The River City Sessions

Swingsuit Records

12 tracks / 67:00

Jeff Jensen is one of the most energetic and engaging performers on today’s music scene, and his live shows are an amazing blend of the blues, funk, rock, and roots genres. You may know Jeff from his last release, Morose Elephant, which was an excellent album. This left coast bluesman has done wonderful work since his move to Memphis in 2011 (where he was director for Brandon Santini’s band), and since then his grueling solo tour schedule has continued unabated.

His latest disc is The River City Sessions, a live show that was recorded in December 2015 at the Ardent Studios in Memphis, Tennessee with an audience of the band’s fans in attendance. Jeff provided the guitars and vocals for this show and was joined by Bill Ruffino on bass and Robinson Bridgeforth on the skins. This club-friendly set included eight original songs and three cool covers.

After a quick intro from the famed Memphis bassman, Leo Goff, the band kicks off with a searing rendition of T-Bone Walkers’s “T-Bone Shuffle,” complete with an almost jazz-like interlude. Jeff has a tremendous vocal range that comes off as natural and relaxed, and his guitar chops are first-rate. This is pretty much one of the best live shows you will hear, as in the controlled environment it is easier to get everything at the right levels. So, the end result is a studio album with the spontaneity and audience reactions of a live show. One take!

From there they segue into an original, “Make it Through,” which is more casual with a gulf coast feel. This fun blues-rock tune highlights the tightness and talent of Ruffino and Bridgeforth’s backline. Then, “Empty Bottles” uses more light-hearted lyrics over a simple beat to show another side of the band’s ability. Jeff lays down a smooth solo, and eventually the tune flips into a full-blown rocker.

The band included a couple of instrumentals to break up the set. “JJ Boogie” starts out with the audience enthusiastically clapping along and once the band get going on this driving song it becomes hard to believe that there are only three of them on stage. Changes in dynamics keep things interesting, and there is no boring flailing on the instruments to be found here. In fact, this is the most kick-ass instrumental blues that I have heard in a long, long time. The other instrumental is “Elephant Blue” (from the Morose Elephant album), and this up-tempo piece features chords that give it an Eastern European mood. You will even hear a bass solo here, and it actually good with no gratuitous popping or slapping.

Jensen and his friends came up with a couple of other covers for the audience’s entertainment. Tom Waits’ “Hear Attack and Vine” (also covered on the Road Worn and Ragged disc) is more conventionally constructed and accessible than the original, and Jeff hollers out Waits’ horrible lyrics that expose the darkness of man while Bridgeforth hits the drums with everything he has. The group finishes up the CD with Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” and after a jazzy intro they turn it into something bluesier than Bob’s version, and smoother than how Hendrix played it. Pretty much it became a Jeff Jensen song at this point, which is a good thing.

If Jeff Jensen and the band needed to find gigs, The River City Sessions would be the perfect demo and would surely get them plenty of work. But looking over their website, it appears that they are really busy with a European tour, and there are many US dates scheduled after they get home. So, you need to give it a listen for yourself and use what you hear for motivation to get off the sofa and head out to one of their shows. This could be your ticket to the Jeff Jensen experience!

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