Jonas Martin is a singer/songwriter and performer hailing from Dallas. Growing up the son of a radio disc jockey, he received a thorough education in rock n’ roll and honed his musical and songwriting skills in a Beatles tribute band. He went on to record indie rock band Goodnight Ned and has gone on to share the stage with artists like Holly Golightly, Polyphonic Spree, Cake and The Toadies amongst many others.
His music is an intoxicating blend of modern alternative rock/blues like The White Stripes and The Black Keys, with hallmarks of the classic songwriting of Ray Davies, Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman. Crucially, Jonas possesses the perfect voice for this kind of music, able to rip it up like Jack White and blessed with a large vocal range.
Starting with a rather surreal intro of someone flicking through radio stations (aptly enough), it launches into the swampy blues-rock of opening track You’re So Blues which hits the listener straight away with an authentic, rootsy sound. The lyrics are suitably quirky (“Baby, he’s so sick he’ll give a corpse the flu…“) and the production is nigh on flawless, with Hammond organ and a delicious lead guitar tone captured perfectly.
Second track Autumn Love shows his Ray Davies influence with shades of The Kinks’ Picture Book detectable on this jaunty, mid-paced song that acts as a nice contrast to the first. Lyrically, it’s again offbeat, celebrating autumn rather than the more common odes to summer and how he marches to a different drum to other people (“Look at them go, hiding from the rain. What’s the matter with the rain?”).
Wake Up is another song with an unusual subject matter, describing the state between
dreaming and waking. The music depicts this brilliantly, creating a psychedelic haze with woozy, divebombing guitars and ghostly backing vocals, leading to a superb bluesy chorus. The amount of instrumental detail on every track shows this album is a real labour of love.
Tracks five and six, Gabby Gasoline and Jodie Lever, are both excellent also, the former being seemingly a paean to his car and freedom it brings, while Jodie Lever, about an 82 year old woman is the sort of character study of enigmatic people that Ray Davies loved to write. Fishy Man is a fun piece of psychedelic blues that the Hendrix of Electric Ladyland would have approved of, lyrically imagining himself as a merman in the sea, which may or may not be a metaphor for something! (“Swim like you want but take it from me, things are better in the big deep…”).
Apple Peelings is another exquisitely crafted piece of work, full of rich Hammond organ. It starts out as a blues-waltz in 3/4 going into a huge Harry Nilsson style epic chorus, and you can really hear the influence here. Nilsson once famously had a ‘duel’ on the mic with John Lennon to see who could ‘rip it up’ the most; you feel Jonas could easily hold his own in that company, as his singing on this one, in particular, is stunning.
No Wonder is perhaps the heaviest song here in both terms of sound and the philosophical nature of the lyrics (“Will I turn to dust or will I be saved?“). Ominous sounding tom-toms roll underneath a powerful wall of organ, piano, and distorted low guitar before it lurches into a cathartic and intense final section, the first of two five-minute epics.
Last track Where Did It Go? is even longer but relatively lighter and more upbeat in tone, with a snappy guitar riff that grooves the song along. Despite women generally being the staple subject matter of blues and rock, this is the first time he resorts to type, but does it in a typically unclichéd fashion (“It’s already over. There’s a fighter down. I got nothing to show. Where did it go?“). The last two minutes are a glorious musical blow- out that feels well earned after so much intricate structure and detail throughout the preceding forty minutes.
Overall, this is a hugely enjoyable album that I found gripping from start to finish. While fellow blues-rock artists like Jack White and The Black Keys are useful as reference points, Jonas Martin has melded his numerous influences in an alchemical way to forge his own sonic style. With inventive songwriting and arrangements, coupled with excellent modern-style production, it revitalizes a genre which some would dismiss as done to death. Anyone who thinks that should give Chokecherry Jam a listen and be prepared to change their mind.
Verdict: 9 out of 10