Jeff Powers. Jeff Powers.
2012. Whiskey Island Records. Jeff Powers: http://jeffpowers.net/
The cover of Jeff Powers’ CD shows an older, bespectacled, bearded gentleman (a bit like myself, but handsomer) with a Woodstock t-shirt, playing a 3-string cigar box guitar (a trademark of sorts). Powers is indeed a guitarist of some renown, and a damned fine one, whichever one he picks up. I first heard his work without realizing it as a member of Dead Guy Blues, whose music I recommend highly. Here he’s not exactly solo, but does nearly all the vocal and guitar work, with some help on keyboards, drums and bass from a group informally referred to as Los Blancos. This album was recorded in 2011 and released last year.
Powers continues to draw on the blues for this album, but also on the singer-songwriter tradition in this baker’s dozen of original songs. His most obvious influences are Neil Young and Bob Dylan, but I hear other things too, less immediately identifiable. The tunes are a mix of bluesy numbers, introspective ballads, “odes,” and a few topical songs. For me, his work shines on the faster and bluesier tunes, such as “Wild Child (the Ballad of Brian Power),” and “Hitchhike in the Rain.” They suit his voice, a tenor that works well in the blues idiom, but tends to wobble a bit on slower ballads (not always a bad thing, since it lends emotion to a song). He also tends to switch styles of playing when he moves from electric (fantastic) to acoustic (still good, but not as riveting to me). The ballads focus less on his playing and more on his lyrics, which he delivers with considerable ability, and they take on a variety of moods. “I’m in a Bad Mood” and Gypsy Girl (Ode to Ani DiFranco)” contain some well-placed humor, while others cast a spell of gloom, particularly “Standing in the Rain” and “Ray of Hope,” that can be quite moving.
The songs I enjoyed least are probably the ones Powers feels most strongly about, “13 Seconds and 67 Shots (Kent State Massacre)” and “Tall Buildings (9/11).” Yes, they are heartfelt and well-played, and I understand and even agree with the sentiments expressed. But I burned out on protest music a long time ago, and generally avoid it now. It’s my problem, not his, and maybe not yours either.
Jeff Powers is a fine musician and a good performer. I caught him at the Blue Rock Café a while back, and he was a trooper, working through his sets despite a miniscule audience. He deserves a wider hearing. Check him out the next time he’s playing.
Personnel: Jeff Powers (vocals, guitars (acoustic, electric, slide, baritone), harmonica, hand percussion, back vocals), Steven T. Winston (bass), Mark Tiffault (drums), Mark Nanni (B3 Hammond, Rhodes, accordion, piano), other assisting musicians.
Tracks: Longest Train (Long Gone), 13 Seconds and 67 Shots (Kent State Massacre, Down in New Orleans, I’m in a Bad Mood, Gypsy Girl (Ode to Ani DiFranco), Let’s Take a Ride, Wild Child (the Ballad of Brian Power), Standing in the Rain, Waitin’ for the Axe to Fall, Just Because He’s Wrong, Ray of Hope, Hitchhike in the Rain, Tall Buildings (9/11).
The Wonderful Wizard of Wans