WILLIE JONES; Fire In My Soul (Shout/Cherry Red)

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Detroit soul man Willie Jones has been peddling music for over 50 years but, incredibly, ‘Fire In My Soul’ is his first solo album! Willie started his musical adventure with a number of celebrated Motor city gospel choirs – singing alongside people like Jackie Wilson and Little Willie John. Embracing the devil’s music, he formed a doo-wop group, The Royal Jokers, who made some moderately successful singles for Atlantic through the late fifties. In the 60s he cut out for a solo career and though recording success eluded him he was happy to play the clubs and lounges of the Detroit area. Then a year or two back he ran into Bettye Lavette – an old acquaintance – who in turn introduced him to contemporary blues enthusiast Jon Tiven. Tiven, who has worked with a number of veteran blues and soul singers, was impressed by Jones’ still fine voice and took him off to Nashville to record his debut album.

A great story, of course; the triumph of patience and persistence over apathy and perceived failure. But is the music on ‘Fire In My Soul’ any good or is it just an exercise in nostalgia funded by a kindly enthusiast? The answer to that one is a resounding yes, it is … the music here is an excellent example of contemporary soul and blues and the long, long wait has certainly been worth it for fans of that genre. Musically the sound of ‘Fire In My Soul’ is the sound old school blues and soul. The sound of, say, Bobby Bland in his Texas prime or maybe Johnnie Taylor in his Malaco days. Though where the voices of Bland and Taylor were rough and gritty, Jones’ is smoother, softer and lighter but it’s nevertheless imbued with the all the world-weariness and life experiences that the voices of those two legends had in spades. And why wouldn’t it be after nearly 60 years on the road?

Get the flavour of this album with ‘The Road From Rags To Riches’ or ‘Shut Up And Drive’… proper old soul with a blues undertow. The Steve Cropper-assisted title track is a softer shuffle with a hint of the store front Gospel churches about it, while ‘Rollin’ And Smokin’ is an old fashioned barrel house rocker. The album’s focal point is, I guess, ‘Without Redemption’ – a steamy duet with old pal Bettye Lavette. The LP’s other big name guest is Pixies’ front man Black Francis, who lends a hand on ‘Janie, Turn It Over’. The flavour here is rockier though the story of drug abuse and prostitution is as old as soul music itself. The album’s other lyrical themes explore the joy and pain of love, cheating in the other room (a great ‘Don’t Mean A Damn’) poverty, the promise of salvation etc … in other words, classic soul story lines… all delivered in a classic old school soul voice.

(BB) 4/5