J.D. & THE STRAIGHT SHOT- The Great Divide (own label)

The Great DivideI’m not wholly sure what to make of this Nashville/NYC-based six-piece fronted by Jim Dolan who, in his day job, is the CEO of a company that oversees several professional NBA sports teams, including the New York Nicks and Rangers. That the members have variously played with Martina McBride, Sheryl Crow, Robert Plant and Emmylou Harris bears testament to their musicianship and the arrangements and playing are unquestionably tight, even when they hit more of a jam groove. But not all of it sticks.

They open with the come together-themed politically-underpinned title track, a rootsy number with a funky fiddle-backed groove that conjures 70s Laurel Canyon that also finds expression in the CS&N feel of ‘Invisible’ and the acoustic shuffling ‘Anything But Love’, although the latter’s more Livingston Taylor than James.

They do mix it up, opening on a capella harmonies before hitting a lurching rhythm, ‘Dead Men Tell No Tales’ has a tribal beat and slurry folk blues groove on a song which calls on the ghostly seafaring figure of doom, Davy Jones, while the steady stomp ‘It Must Be Night’ introduces a backwoods bluegrass vibe with the banjo and ‘I Should’ve Known’ is an acoustic sexual harassment-inspired storysong that draws on Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘The Boxer’ for its blueprint.

Again, the cautionary ‘Bees’ (“can give you honey, but they can sting you too”) has a bluesy, ahem, summery buzz about it and the syncopated percussive ‘Take It Slow’ delivers a Latin rhythmic sway and ‘Walking on a Wire’ returns to a choppy, fiddle-backed blues and soul-coloured folk sound with background female and handclaps.

As I say, The Great Divide isn’t a bad album by any means and, while none of the songs are contenders, they do all have an infectious spirit to then. But it’s still hard to shake the feeling of them being a bar or festival band rather than a concert theatre act, something reinforced by the fact they choose to end with two somewhat pointlessly faithful covers, a version of The Turtles ‘Happy Together’, which palls alongside the recent reimagining by The Screaming Orphans, and a full seven-minute plus jam workout of The Allman Brothers instrumental classic ‘Jessica’ which, frankly, no band should ever do if they’re not going to put their own stamp on it; and for all their adept playing, they simply don’t. To extend a metaphor from his NBA associations, they play good game but there’s no slam dunks.

Mike Davies

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‘The Great Divide’ – official video:

JENN & LAURA-BETH – Bound (JBLB Records JBLB01)

BoundJenn Butterworth and Laura-Beth Salter have worked as a duo for eight years but Bound is their first album as a duo. The reason for this is simple; they have been far too busy. Jenn has worked with Anna Massie and the Rachel Hair Trio and most recently as a member of the collective that produced Songs Of Separation. Laura-Beth is a founding member of The Shee and has played alongside Frigg and Shooglenifty.

Bound is a mixture of Jenn’s Scottish roots and Laura-Beth’s fondness for Americana. With just two voices, guitar and mandolin, the album was recorded as live and the dynamism of their playing leaps off the plastic.  I don’t believe that ‘If I Had A Lover’ sounds anything like the way Bert Jansch envisaged it now it’s mixed with Jenn’s tune ‘The Belle Of The Ball’ but it’s great. Boo Hewerdine’s ‘Wings On My Heels’ was taken up by Eddi Reader and it wasn’t one of my favourites. Jenn and Laura-Beth make it much more country with their harmonies and I feel rather better about this reading of it. ‘The Great Divide’ by the late Kate Wolf is a lovely song by a relatively unknown writer.

Laura-Beth’s song, ‘The Braver One’, should be widely heard. Its theme is that it takes a brave person to go against the tide of popular opinion and not join the rabble even though you might sort-of agree with their viewpoint. It’s a complex idea and Laura-Beth expresses it so much better than I could. Then we have the instrumental sets. Their pairing of two originals, ‘1,2,3,4’ and ‘Joseph Salter’s’ sees them trade lead and accompaniment between guitar and mandolin, a trick they use quite often although ‘Apple At The Crossroads/Elzwick’s Farewell’ is really Laura-Beth’s chance to show off.

As a debut, Bound has been a long time coming; let’s hope we don’t have to wait so long for the follow-up.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: http://www.jennandlb.com/

‘The Great Divide’ live: