Brooklyn-based folkgrass band The Jones Street Boys released their first album, Overcome, back in October of 2007; since then, they've raised a couple of eyebrows on the americana and alt-country blogs, but not nearly enough. I heard them for the first time last week, but I'm not afraid to be late for the party when I've got such a great housewarming gift for all those out there who appreciate the No Depression end of modern folk music.
At heart, The Jones Street Boys are a bluegrass band; their members have played Merlefest alongside Gillian Welch and Nickel Creek, and their instrumentation is heavy on the banjo, acoustic guitar, mandolin and upright bass. But add a sweet harmonica worthy of Springsteen, a barrel-house piano, and the ragged, heartfelt delivery of Wilco or The Band, and the result is gorgeous, stripped down, pulled back, intimate blues-tinged americana.
If this is bluegrass at all, it's lo-fi alt-country bluegrass music with a hint of midnight trainsongs and fireside song circles, a dollop of happy roots rock, and the pure infectious joy of making plumb great music. In fact, their sound is so damn infectious, I haven't listened to anything else in days.
The range of these five top-notch musicians is impressive, too. Their ability to hold back and control the flow, floating the sparse harmonica and lead vocals over a bed of solid bass, mandolin, and drumkit and some sweet campfire harmonies, creates a ragged alt-country tension that lends the perfect note of longing and exhaustion to their slower songs. And when they cut loose, the result is pure acoustic glee.
Overcome runs a pretty broad spectrum, from full-bore youngfolks jams to sparse, weary americana; of these, the three covers that appear on this self-produced album hover around the americana end, but I'm not complaining. All are excellent, as covers and as song. Their cover of Twilight, my favorite song by The Band, bears the sound of encores at midnight; John Hartford's Tall Buildings, which closes the album, beats Gillian Welch's version hands down. And in these capable hands, lesser-known bluegrass classic Walls of Time, originally by Bill Monroe and Peter Rowan, becomes a majestic, bittersweet masterpiece.
This is great stuff, a perfect meld of traditional blues-and-bluegrass instrumentation and No Depression-esque sensibility. Thanks to The Planetary Group for allowing us to pass along these covers, that you, too, might get The Jones Street Boys stuck in your head.
- The Jones Street Boys, Walls of Time (orig. Monroe/Rowan)
- The Jones Street Boys, Twilight (orig. The Band)
- The Jones Street Boys, Tall Buildings (orig. John Hartford)
Want to hear more? Stream the entire album over at The Jones Street Boys website, and then buy Overcome via Insound, the band's preferred source for purchase. And when you do, keep an ear open for Argentina, a beautiful, uptempo original easily worth the price of purchase.
Today's bonus coversongs offer other artist's versions of the same songs covered on Overcome, for comparison's sake. It says what it needs to about the genius of The Jones Street Boys that, in other contexts, these covers would stand out more.