Album Review: Lew Jetton – Christmas Past

Album Review of Lew Jetton: Christmas Past

I just downloaded this Christmas album a few weeks ago, and I’m enjoying the heck out of it.  Christmas and the blues go well together, though all-too-often blues artists will try to over-blues a holiday record. Lew Jetton resists that urge on Christmas Past, getting the bluesy energy-to-Christmas spirit ratio just right on this six-song release.

Lew Jetton - Christmas Past

image courtesy of Lew Jetton

Lew kicks things off with a rousing, energetic rendition of “Winter Wonderland.” It’s a great song to rock to, with growling guitars and emphatic piano punctuating this disc-opener. It’s joined by three other Christmas standards, a Chuck Berry-era-esque “Run Run Rudolph,” a version of “White Christmas” performed in a peppy crooning style, and an Elvis-worthy, smooth, soft-rockin’-bluesy, kinda cheerful-sounding “Blue Christmas” (because everyone knows a bluesman loves a blue Christmas).

Mixed in among the standards are a couple Lew Jetton originals that fit the record like a glove. The title track, for example, delivers emotion in the form of a country blues-style reminiscence, with Lew’s hoarse vocals keeping things smooth and a bit sad. As much as I like Lew’s take on the cover tunes, I think “Christmas Past” may be my favorite track on this disc.

The other original, “Christmas With My Baby,” is rather the polar opposite; it’s a cheerful, energetic blues-rockin’ number, carrying along much of the energy of its lead-in, “Run Run Rudolph,” by somewhat emulating its early blues-rock guitar sound.

I enjoy Christmas music only in moderation, so I don’t add to my collection often, but this EP, with its energy, precision, and variety, has earned its spot on my holiday playlist. And it earned a rare Christmas album review.

Looking Ahead

I first ran across Lew’s music when I reviewed his album Rain earlier this year. And he’s planning a new non-holiday release for late spring next year which I’m really looking forward to. In the meantime, keep an eye on the “upcoming shows” page of his website to see if he’s playing near you.

 

Album Review: Lew Jetton & 61 South – Rain

Lew Jetton

photo courtesy of Frank Roszak Promotions

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.

Lew Jetton & 61 South - Rain

image courtesy of Frank Roszak Promotions

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.

Lew Jetton

photo courtesy of Frank Roszak Promotions

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.