Jamie McLean is no stranger to those who have their ears to the ground and their eyes on the skies of American music.
As a songwriter, singer, and guitarist, he has won plaudits from connoisseurs of uplifting, exhilarating performance sharpened by first-rate musicianship. He has been called to play sessions for artists as diverse as Norah Jones and Chuck D, shared the stage with Elvis Costello, The Black Crowes and Dave Matthews, toured the world as a member of the celebrated Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and rocked the worlds of fans in small clubs, in Madison Square Garden, and before crowds that sprawled toward the horizons of Bonnaroo and Japan’s Fuji Rock.
McLean is an astounding songwriter, vocalist and player in that place where Southern and streetwise rock, roadhouse blues, downtown R&B and swampy soul music find communion and his new album Completely will catch you by surprise.
Completely is the perfect title for the Jamie McLean Band’s dynamic new album
It is, first of all, a milestone, marking the first release that bears the Jamie McLean Band as its name. The distinction is subtle but real, for the sound of Completely is a fusion of his artistry with the power that comes from conceiving, nurturing, and delivering great songs as a unified ensemble.
On these 11 tracks, McLean, bassist Derek Layes, keyboardist Jon Solo and drummer Brian Griffin cover all the bases, musically and thematically. The agony of a love grown distant intensifies through the minor-to-major chords on “Natalie.” But on “Cupid’s Greatest Thief” this pain turns philosophical and even upbeat over a steamy Memphis R&B beat. We catch the whiff of freedom on a breezy freeway cruise on “Checkmate,” feel the promise of redemption in the mists of “Summer Rain” and dig deep into core of rock & roll with the guitar-driven, drum-pummeled, fist-pumping “Peace and Glory.”
“In the very early stages of my solo career, it was very much about me bringing a finished product to the band,” McLean explains. “Now, while I still write most of our songs, we’re writing together and collaborating, and some of the guys are bringing their music to the table too. We’re a band in every sense of the word – a driving rock band.”
But as with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, one of the Jamie McLean Band’s most significant influences, this group centers on the front man’s talent and charisma. Along with his band, McLean achieves a blend of onstage energy, roots-rich soul in his voice and bluesy grit in his playing, and mastery of concise, hard-hitting composition.
It was while still touring as a member of New Orleans’ Dirty Dozen Brass Band that McLean began exploring the possibilities of a solo career. He recorded his first album, This Time Around, in 2005 – a flat-out rocker, cut in three exhilarating days while also laying the foundation of his band’s catalog of recordings. American Heartache followed in 2008, more ambitious, even adventurous, and enhanced by guest appearances from Luther Dickenson of the North Mississippi All-Stars and the Dirty Dozen horns.
“Completely is the next step,” McLean explains. “Everything gets turned up a couple of notches. We’re writing better, all of us. The songs have stronger hooks. The background vocals are solid; everybody is singing. And it captures where we are right now. People have always come up at shows and talked to me about my singing or guitar playing; they’re still doing that but they’re also saying, ‘You’ve got some great songs.’ More than ever, it’s about writing a great tune. This album really captures who we are and where we’re going – and that will always begin and end with playing live. I’m in it to play for people, and if Completely helps me do this, that’s all I can ask.”