Here's the newest NTD release from Big Orange Studios, a raw, emotional musical effort by singer/songwriter Sam Jones, the director of the Wilco documentary, "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart. Jones enlists a cast of characters from the worlds of rock, punk, and country. "My Front Porches" represents a departure from Jones' past songwriting style and musical leanings and finds Jones sliding comfortably into the roll of master of ceremonies to an eclectic crew of visiting musicians who get together behind the doors of Big Orange. They include Val McCallum, who is currently playing guitar for the Wallflowers, Davey Faragher, the bass player in Elvis Colstello's current band, and Dan McCarrol, the drummer for Aimee Mann, Sheryl Crow, the Grays, and others. The broad scope of style suggests a maturing Jones, while the arrangements and raw recordings show an artist unafraid to reveal the skeletal structure of the studio process.
Here are ten new songs from Jones that still bite lyrically, a mix of urgency and angst. The difference is that these songs are now wrapped in a more worldly and wise package. In the punk rock anthem, "Astronauts in Motion," Jones writes about the demystification of heroes, while also exploring the psychological undercurrent of dementia: "we are astronauts in motion / divorcing our wives and leaving our children / nothing on earth can ever compare / to the feeling of just floating in the air." Even at Jones' most bleak, in "Suit of Lights" he takes responsibility for relationship failure due to self destruction.
But perhaps the most telling lyric comes in the song "Clint Eastwood." Here Jones talks about a love lost, but this is not the standard fare. Jones explores the deeper sense of aloneness that comes with age. "I won't see you in my dreams / it's not the kind of love it seems / you protect yourself from the man I used to be."
Acclaimed songwriter/producer Jon Brion says of "My Front Porches" - "I wish more people were making records like this." And the sad but true fact is that it is getting harder and harder to find an artist willing to experiment and branch out. More often these days music is compartmentalized into commercial genres. In this respect, "My Front Porches" has a lot in common with The Clash's "Sandinista," or Bob Dylan's "Blonde on Blonde," two records hard to categorize, but that stand the test of time.
The entire patchwork of American music represented on this record is stitched together by Jones's distinctive voice and lyrical stance. At times raw, desperate, and weary, Jones conveys his tall tales with honesty and earnestness.
The addition of new instruments to the rock mix, such as trumpet, violin, vibes, banjo, calliope, and Wurlitzer organ was a conscious choice by Jones when starting this project, in the hopes that it would broaden his songwriting. The result is clearly a success, with "Smile/Frown" reminiscent of vintage Bacharach, "Lemonade Parade" swirling with carnival mystery, "Tujunga" slow-rocking like Crazy Horse, and "Nervous System" and "Suit of Lights" bursting with "Pet Sounds" exuberance.
The recording process ranges from full multi-track studio work to live-to-two-track recording on "Hard to Love," and "Freeway." This process allows for more immediacy and exuberance, and lets the music be uncontrolled, and free.
Jones has not lost his urge to rock, and "Astronauts," "Hopped Up Bastard," and "Tujunga" bear witness to a rock history that is linked to classic artists like Neil Young and the Rolling Stones, but owes more debt to punk rock heroes the Clash, Pavement, and the Replacements.
To say his songwriting on this record is ambitious is an understatement. From the arrangements to the production to the mysterious and raw sonic landscapes, this record has a lot in common with both "The White Album," and "the Basement Tapes."
"My Front Porches" is true to its title, a record you can sit down and spend an evening with, slapping bugs and drinking slow.