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Album Review: Dakota Jones Band – Black Light (Lord Please Records)

4

My first impression, which only escalated with each successive song, was that this album is underproduced

Delightfully underproduced, to the point of unabashedly embracing an almost retro crystal clarity, an art I thought had been lost decades ago. 

I’d never heard of Dakota Jones before, not being a consumer of the usual-issue-Spotify-playlist-fare. My listening preferences normally inhabit mainstream jazz and classical music, with very occasional forays into funk-fusion or classic rock. That’s it. I haven’t heard much vocally dominated pop-oriented music since my early years fooling around with Cat Stevens, David Crosby and Carole King songs. 

And so it is refreshing to discover that the music of Dakota Jones convincingly stands on its own as a marker in a grand continuum that has seen generations of excellent singer-songwriters with deeply-felt words to express, and with an accomplished capacity to express them musically. Carole King came to my mind almost immediately with the first song, I did it to Myself. Sure, the lyrics by Tristan Carter-Jones are dramatically more visceral and uncompromising than anything ever written by Ms King, but then we’ve all moved on since Tapestry was released way back in 1971. 

Similar threads, though, and in a good way.

I found the musical sensibility and vocal delivery of the lyric writing here very capable indeed. Not once does the messaging, powerful as it is, overcome the ensemble or border on pretentious indulgence. The meter and accents are always perfectly placed. The voice is not smothered by excessive processing either, so the words can be heard clearly. It isn’t often that this balance actually works so well even for established artists and bands. 

Dakota Jones range forth into wide musical landscapes here, and are generally successful too. Of course, they do seem most at home within a soul-flavoured pop space, which is where their cohesion works best. But they haven’t balked at exploring more conceptual and complex arrangements, and Medicine demonstrates this well, charged by powerful songwriting. Again, I am reminded of continuums in music: Queen with Freddie Mercury come to mind. 

Coming back to the impression of underproduction which pervades the entire album: this approach actually serves the purpose appropriately. Every bass note, drum hit and guitar chord is minimally adorned and has a distinctly audible and essential place in the sonic texture. Nothing is superfluous here. But then, Tapestry had similar production values. 

If I must say anything about room for improvement, it is regarding the chordal treatment on the songs. Everyone on this session certainly knows their stuff, and the arrangements promise a vast harmonic soundscape which is never completely achieved. Perhaps the band might have restrained themselves just a bit too much in the interests of accessibility, but they needn’t have. Their material and performance ability are strong and confident enough to allow the instrumentalists, excellent all, to reach far beyond simple triadic voicings and bass lines on root notes, without losing any appeal or charisma. 

Speaking of the instrumentalists, the guitar solo on Blacklight is a definitive high point. Over a straightforward two-chord vamp, it tells a story of its own which complements the forthrightness of the lyrics.

I’m going to go back into Spotify to catch up with past releases by Dakota Jones, and will look forward to more. I believe the best from them is yet to come. However, Black Light is well worth listening to in its own right by anyone, regardless of their tastes. 

Black Light is released via Lord Please Records on Friday 27 August