If Steve Jones is just going to put out another record every year from now on, I'd be okay with that. After 20-plus years playing these parts, he's followed his fourth album (It's Different Every Day) 11 months later with his fifth, the newly released Listening, and he's begun to create a continuum much like a good Pandora station — except it's always Steve Jones you're hearing.
With a continuing knack for changing up his sound and writing style, Jones's work always seems fresh and interesting, even if he's toiling in musical fields that have been harvested many times before: rootsy ballads, rockabilly, swing, country waltzes, and old-time rock and roll. He's got great taste and a world-weary delivery that's especially good in the lower register.
It's that voice that carries the Boneheads-jokey "Monkey in My Mind" and that grabs at you in the spare open to "One Mistake at a Time" like a combination of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, before the tune brightens up a little strangely with piano and snare.
That's engineer/producer Bob Colwell on the keys, and the record put together at his Root Cellar studio sounds just as nice as Jones's last one, with continually inviting guitar tones and an understanding of when to do not much, as on the closing "Time to Walk Away," where Jones shows off acoustic-guitar chops with a quiet ballad and you can hear every time he brushes his hand up against the guitar's body. It's the kind of intimacy needed to pull off a line like, "I love you, but it's late."
Colwell's organ contribution on the opener, "Just Another Beginning," is artful, too, lending a fuzzy feel around the edges for what's a nostalgic and melancholy tune with a devil-may-care bassline to keep you guessing: "How can she be so sweet/When it's damaged goods I'm throwing at her feet?"
On "Who in the World," though, the attempt at Elvis meets Jerry Lee Lewis falls a little flat, with an overly repetitive piano line in the right channel that's hard to ignore (in a bad way). I can't argue, though, with a terrifically mean-spirited line like, "the more I hear you talk, the more I want to stuff your mouth with an old wool sock."
And this is Jones's show, after all. It's his charisma that really moves the title track, which would just kill live if given the full band treatment. Like Buffalo Springfield with a hint of Motown from backing vocals that goose the finish, and a slide on the resonator guitar, this is a song with real punch and more than one smart turn of phrase: "So many people, so much to say, it's no wonder we're lost in the fray/Thoughts are spoken, but never heard, hearts are broken, without a word."
Jones has thrown a stake in the ground as Maine's troubadour of what Richard Ford's Frank Bascombe called the Existence Period, a period of life where, as Jones sings in "Just Not Quite What You Want," you just kind of keep doing something until something better comes along. You know, "it's not so bad"?
Steve Jones? Yeah, he ain't bad at all.
LISTENING | Released by Steve Jones | on Cornmeal Records | tinyurl.com/SteveJonesMusic