Jonathan Ross, Hence the Blues www.jonathanrossmusic.com
Reviewed by Art Menius, January 31, 2012, for http://artmenius.com
Hence the Blues proves a promising debut for Houston singer-songwriter Jonathan Ross featuring acoustic and electric material, plenty of guitar and fiddle, drums and bass, and the occasional banjo. With a nice hand for clever couplets and a facility for finding a good, vaguely country groove, Ross compares well to Jonathan Byrd.
Despite nine original songs ranging from professional to very good, the absolute killer track on Hence the Blues is the only cover, the traditional “Coo Coo.” Ross reconstructs it, much like Fairport Convention was doing four decades ago, into an angst-driven, rocker.
Other standout cuts include “Heavy Load (Gone, Gone, Gone),” a conventional, semi-acoustic blues that is as close as Hence the Blues actually comes to the blues. This is a serious concern since some folks may buy the album thinking it is blues and others not buy for the same reason. “Suzanne Gold” falls easily into classic acoustic singer-songwriter or Americana, while “Hence the Blues (Lady Adelle)” proves not a blues at all, but an excellent country rock with the first electric guitar appearance on the release. “Up and At Em” features bluegrass banjo rolls throughout the song, giving it an up tempo, lighthearted mood that contrasts with darker lyrics. “Covenants are for Killjoys” proves an engaging, fun electric honky-tonker with some electric guitar riffing (“Covenants are for Killjoys/They hold you as you run”).
The rest of Hence the Blues suffers from a simple lack of originality. “22 Miles” sounds took much like Guy Clark wrote it. The closing “Songbird Classic” returns to mainstream singer-songwriter with a nice melody and excellent groove lost to lyrics sounding, again, too much like Guy. “Highway Mama” proves a pleasant but pedestrian Texas campfire sing along, while “Pasadena Rose” – standard Americana fare.
Ross exhibits substantial skills as a songwriter and singer, with a nice ear for both language and melody. For me, the electric guitar pieces seemed more original and better realized than the more conventional Americana songs with acoustic guitar lead. Ross has a way to go to mature fully as an artist. I look forward to his development.