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Jon KenzieJon Kenzie
Album: From Wanderlust
Label: Membran
Tracks: 11

Jon is a singer-songwriter from Manchester, England with his musical roots steeped in blues, folk and soul. Fiercely independent, Jon has built a fan base over the years here in England and across Europe by not only performing at organised gigs but also through busking relentlessly on the streets of every town he visits. Having previously released two albums independently, only now on his third record 'From Wanderlust' has Jon collaborated with a label.

His solo sound has been described as 'a fresh take on blues, folk, soul and Americana, sitting somewhere between the troubadour stylings of modern day practitioners such as M.Ward and the earthy edginess of Tom Waits'.

On the album, Jon sings and plays acoustic guitar on all tracks whilst something of a cast of thousands add drums, double bass, cello, viola, keyboards, harmonium, electric guitar, trombone, trumpet, saxophone and clarinet on various songs.

Of the eleven numbers here, eight are Jon Kenzie originals and three are co writes. The record was recorded at the Giant Wafer Studios in Mid Wales, engineered by Mark Lewis, mixed by Justin Shearn and co produced by Jon Kenzie and Mark Lewis.

The proceedings start with the five minute thirteen second epic 'Winds Of Approaching Night'. An atmospheric drone ushers the song in almost like an old ships foghorn, then an acoustic guitar part over which Jon intones in vintage blues, spiritual fashion before going into the heart of the song.

Jon's voice sounds extremely powerful here, very much an old time acoustic blues, field holler vibe. At about two and a half minutes in the song pauses briefly then launches headlong into a tempo change on the back of Jon's Bo Diddley type rhythm guitar, all pushed along by some lovely double bass and tight, clattering drums. It rattles along nicely before slowing down again for the outro, ending as it came in. This is a great choice of opening song and really does make quite an impact.

To be honest, I was expecting more of the same gritty, rootsy, acoustic blues. However, track two 'Take A Seat' is anything but. A beautifully recorded, picked acoustic guitar riff starts things off before Jon starts singing sweetly, sounding something like a cross between Damien Rice and Jack Johnson. On essentially a solo guitar and vocal piece, the jaunty rhythm is really catchy as he implores someone to 'come take a seat next to me, still one thing in this world that's free, come take a seat next to me, I've been saving it for you all of your life'.

'If I Ever Did Find' is another acoustic, immediate, poppy sounding song with some lovely harmonies and at times a reggae tinged feel in the vocals.

The fourth number 'Step And Stumble' takes us back to the raw blues sound of the opening track. Over a tight double bass and drum rhythm Jon sings, but with his voice processed this time giving it that distant, 'through a megaphone' sound that serves to almost artificially age things.

'Five More Years' has a similar vibe but with an electric guitar riff pushing things along which lends a real blues band feel to this song.

Track six, 'Can You Decide' is back to more acoustic singer-songwriter terrain and again, essentially a guitar and vocal piece.

Later in the album, 'Soothing Whisper' really changes things up, starting with an acappella vocal from Jon which is much closer to folk than blues, both in delivery and melody. The song has a courtly, waltz time feel and features some stunning harmonies and almost monastic chants through the refrain. This is all beautifully arranged and orchestrated and really is a stunning piece of music.

'With Draw' is a further ensemble number with a great brass arrangement that prompts Tom Waits references and boasts a ridiculously catchy chorus.

'Catching The Catcher' returns to more familiar blues territory and chugs along nicely with some particularly fine electric guitar in the mix.

The final song 'Clicking Needles' slows things down a little and is a mid tempo, subtly played and performed number that did not really register with me immediately, but after a few listens is a real grower and reveals itself as a strong track to close the album.

This is an interesting, engaging album, full of great playing, creative arrangements and performances.

I do have a couple of minor reservations, although these could just as easily be put in the 'personal musical preferences' department. Firstly, I am not a fan of processed, 'megaphone' type vocals as I think they both age and grate quickly. This seems a particular shame here when Jon has such an outstanding voice and production trickery just detracts from this I think. Secondly, some of the stylistic shifts between the songs feel a little forced and unnecessary. Having a 'core' sound that ties things together does not always mean that the product becomes samey and monotonous, particularly when you have musicians of the calibre that play on this album.

However, these really are minor quibbles and I would not want to detract from the overall quality of this record. Some of the music here is outstanding by anyone's standards and for me 'Winds of Approaching Night' and 'Soothing Whisper' to name but two, are stunning songs perfectly delivered. I imagine Jon with his prodigious work ethic will be touring this album very soon and I think it will be a real pleasure to catch it live in all its raw beauty.

Paul Jackson