For a guy whom just about every true Maine roots fan knows on sight (and by the first five notes or so of a guitar solo), Steve Jones sure is a chameleon. While many artists with Jones's longevity and history (Boneheads, Coming Grass, Dirigo, solo for more than 20 years) would have by now developed some kind of "signature sound," Jones on his fourth solo release, It's Different Every Day, continues to be all over the spectrum. From Texas swing to '70s rock to singer-songwriter fare, not only are his song constructions constantly in flux, but even his delivery changes continuously, so you'd be hard pressed to know it was the same guy if you weren't fairly sure it was.
READY FOR A YARN Steve Jones.
For a rookie, this could be a problem, but Jones doesn't have any issues with cohesiveness or vision or execution. We still get a healthy dose of resigned, world-weary tunes about loves lost (or happily left behind); jokey, what-else-can-you-do-but-laugh rockers; and cut-to-the-quick solitary tunes from the heart. This might, too, be the most prominent release yet to be recorded and mastered at Bob Colwell's Root Cellar in Jones's stomping grounds of Hallowell. They did something right. The album sounds like John Denver recording with the Byrds and has a nostalgic air that longtime roots-rock fans will appreciate.
The album starts especially strong with "Itchy Fingers" and "Once in a While," a pair of songs full of great melodic runs and acoustic instruments twanging among each other. Jones plays most of them, slide guitars and acoustic guitars and a bass line in "Once" that's so subtly pleasing I rewound its first occurrence three times on the first listen. "Fingers" is more upbeat, a drinking song about the call of the guitar and its power to make everything all right ("dust off that lump of coal/In your heart/In your heart"), with an acoustic guitar lick at its fulcrum. "Once" starts out with a stark Jones on vocals and a Dickie Betts guitar tone, then features an unexpected full band sound coming in, one of the few times I've been surprised by this lately.
When Jones sings, "I'm going to love you/Anyway," it only sort of sounds like a threat.
There's another excellent couplet of songs mid-album, "Any Moment" and "Hard to Imagine." The former is a deep-throated, push-on-through R&B track, with Colwell on an organ that's mixed to the back for foundation and a call-and-response chorus. It's also where we get the first full-on solo from Jones on the album, the first extended jam, something that may have been influenced by his time with Strangefolk's Erik Glockler, his mate in Dirigo who sings backup vocals here and plays bass and harmonica on "Livin' a Dream" (which is not as corny as its title).
Then, after all that circumstance of crescendo and buzz, the follow-up of "Imagine" is an inspired choice — dialed back, completely alone with Jones and his acoustic, a palate cleanser: "You could have had happiness in the palm of your hand/Instead you let loneliness lead you away."
Jones turns things on their heads, flips a few clichés, and generally has a bunch of fun here. With 12 guest musicians in total, it feels inclusive, like a bar you can sit at by yourself and find someone to chat with inside of five minutes. Not every guy you meet is a friend for life, but you can generally find something in common.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IT'S DIFFERENT EVERY DAY | Released by Steve Jones | on Cornmeal Records | with his band, the Fine Corinthians | at the Big Easy, in Portland | March 13 | tinyurl.com/SteveJonesMusic