Reviews

Al JonesAl Jones
Album: Jonesville
Label: Ghosts From The Basement
Tracks: 18
Website: http://www.ghostsfromthebasement.bandcamp.com

The late Al Jones was an interesting figure whose major claim to fame - if any - was probably the rather good album Jonesville that came out on the cult Village Thing label in 1973. Its original note read: "This record is not to be classified as rock, folk or progressive, nor is Al Jones to be classified as a singer/songwriter, composer/guitarist or hoochie coochie man."

Well, this record was Al's second album release, came three years after his debut, which had appeared on Parlophone in 1970 and, while admittedly a touch over-produced in the manner of its time, nevertheless provided a platform for Al's many talents, both as a classy singer-songwriter and as a guitarist of no little note. I think his playing might best be described as unassumingly spectacular, for it incorporates elements of blues-centred fingerpicking interspersed with some innovative and rather oddball techniques.

Al's debut LP, Alun Ashworth-Jones, has been reissued twice - initially on Mooncrest, and then in 2008 (the year he died) as part of an exhaustive, then-definitive two-disc anthology on Castle. The complete contents of Jonesville also appeared on that anthology, but the LP's 13 tracks have since been digitally remastered from the original tapes for this latest release, and they sound even better this time round. Here Al demonstrates his modest and natural mastery of what could be characterised as "the two main strands of his approach, the visceral and the cerebral", with some of the individual songs relying on powerful sea imagery, some taking the form of cautionary tales (Get Out Of My Car, Earthworks, Jeffrey Don't You Touch, London With You) or relating particularly doomy prophecies (Ice Age), while many feature Al's typically playful sense of humour.

The LP also contained two typically dextrous instrumentals (one of which sported the delicious title Most Chickens Are Mild And Friendly Or Would Like To Be!). Then, following the "fun album finale" tradition of that era, Al relishes in dispatching a somewhat Canned-Heat-inspired, "facetiously rocked-up" Elvis-voiced version of The Wild Rover that provided healthy competition for the near-contemporary Fred Wedlock treatment on his Frolicks LP (tho' Al's is more Muddy Waters than Chuck Berry!). The remaining six tracks on this Ghosts From The Basement release comprise very decent vox-and-guitar demos recorded by Village Thing label boss Ian A. Anderson at his home in 1974; all are previously unreleased except for the most fully-realised (and most original) of them, The Road To Marazion - although not even the latter had appeared on the Castle anthology - and all show Al relaxed and confident and starting to pursue intriguing new material.

After those demos, however, Al recorded nothing further until a 1998 album, Swimming Pool - preferring instead to concentrate on developing the Ashworth range of acoustic instrument pickups and later the Ashbory bass. Completists will still no doubt yearn for the reissue of Swimming Pool and the early EP tracks missing from the Castle set. But many psych-folk aficionados will continue to regard Jonesville as Al's finest hour, and in this persuasive, well-presented new edition, with those fine bonus demos appended, who can disagree?

David Kidman