Lew Jetton & 61 South – Rain
Album Review of Lew Jetton & 61 South: Rain
When I listen to Lew Jetton & 61 South‘s Rain, I can imagine driving down a country road hearing these songs on AM radio. This is a classic blues album, with tight musicianship surrounding Lew’s mid-range blues voice.
Yet it’s also modern. And it’s not just the subject matter that’s contemporary, though disc-opener “Who’s Texting You” is clearly not something I’d’ve heard back when AM radio contained more music than talk. Indeed, that song combines a pulsing beat, fun lyrics, and an energetic blues vibe; given the modern spin on a classic cheated-on-me blues song, the opening track has a broad appeal.
Yeah, there’s just something about good blues music. Its quality is apparent immediately; the examination of what makes it so good comes later, to the extent it’s possible to understand. And this album, in particular, crosses multiple blues sub-genre lines, proving Lew and his band versatile proprietors of an entire blues emporium.
Raucous “Move On Yvonne” follows the opening song with a party atmosphere, driven by featured contributions ranging from J.D. Wilkes’ memorable harmonica-work to world class ivory-tickling from J. Solon Smith and great guest vocals from Miranda Louise, which served as a reply to Lew’s gruff lead vocal.
“Lay Me Down” is a lay-it-bare, hold-your-lighter-in-the-air, slow-but-insistent number whose showcase musical contribution, supporting Lew’s heartfelt vocal, is a standout guitar line from Sam Moore that’s almost lyrical.
“Glory Train” is an uptempo blues-Gospel number that sports with a crackly radio intro and outro from Reverend Joann Green. Though obviously the production is superior to AM radio “stereo” sound, the opening of this song simply emphasizes that old-fashioned, classic flavor I mentioned earlier.
Ironically following “Glory Train,” Lew Jetton & 61 South’s real come-to-Jesus song may be their spin on John Hiatt’s “Feels Like Rain.” The upliftingly sad organwork from Dan Bell is the key to this song. “Feels Like Rain” is a close-your-eyes-and-listen, pure blues number that’s a pleasure to soak up in all its glory. While working on this review, I also realized “Pontchartrain” and “hurricane” rhyme (and have the same number of syllables), as they’re both used to offset the trisyllabic title phrase. Don’t tell John, but I like Lew’s interpretation a little better.
Finally, another favorite, and this may be because I love well-conceived, fun lyrics, is the growling “Keeping Me Awake,” which derives much of its light-hearted energy from Alonzo Pennington’s dancing guitar line and J. Solon Smith’s almost-jazzy piano-work. But the pleas to Lew’s “baby” that she’s keeping him awake? Classic blues at its most playful.
As a whole, all these songs create a great blues journey, touching upon Lew & band’s broad-based catalog of blues styles. And Rain closes with a terrific rendition of Allen Tousaint’s “It’s Raining,” a romantic plea to a love absent… or perhaps a love lost. Regardless, it’ll tug at your heartstrings.
Backed by a talented band, some on the whole disc and others on a subset of songs, Lew’s supporting cast – and let’s not forget the solid rhythm section of Erik Eicholtz (drums) and bass players James Sullivan and Otis Walker – are as responsible for this disc as Lew’s voice and songwriting. A collection that earns its spot on the turntable (or modern equivalent), Rain is an album that will appeal to hardcore blues fans and casual listeners alike.