CD REVIEW: Jeff Saxon - Blujanova
By Dan Cohen - 10/08/2013 - 05:07 PM EDT
Artist: Jeff Saxon
Label: Relevant Records
Genre: Latin Jazz
Sounds Like: Stan Getz, Jobim w vocals
Technical Grade: 10/10
Production/Musicianship Grade: 9/10
Songwriting Skills: 8/10
Best Songs: Hound Dog, Yes Is My Favorite Word, The Afterlove
It's Sunday. It's raining. Kinda like, oh, last Sunday. You finished your run. Or maybe you never went out. Maybe you hate running. Maybe you just got off work. Or you're just going in, alas. Whatever. If your troubles are not too huge and you've got a moment to kick back, I've got the perfect album to put your mind at ease: Blujanova.
Jeff Saxon is an accomplished singer/songwriter and musician. His guitar playing is clean and to the point. And he's invented a new genre. Blujanova, he calls it, a blending of blues and bossa nova. I know, feels like bluesanova would be more apt. Maybe blusanova? Or does that look Russian? I don't know where the 's' went. Or why it was replaced by a 'j'. Maybe you pronounce it like an 'h', in the Spanish style. Maybe it's one of those union deals. Maybe it's a silent 'j', like in those Kevin Smith movies. Or was that was Silent Bob?...But whatever you call it, Jeff creates a cool, relaxed, confident backdrop for the collection of songs he drops here.
His mission is to prove that the bossa beat and feel fits with the blues style, so he mixes his originals with classic blues and rock tunes, to mixed effect. 'Hound Dog' gets a reworking that is the opposite of the shouting, roadhouse approach usually taken on this song, and it works beautifully. Less successful is the James Brown classic 'I Feel Good', but...why in the world would you cover that??!! That's like putting your face on Mt. Rushmore. Saxon supplies a generic bossa beat and not much else. I Feel Good is one classic you maybe don't want to mess with. His cover of The Doors 'Riders on the Storm' lends itself far better to this treatment, though I don't love the arrangement. Instead of putting a 'blujanova' (it's growing on me) feel to the wonderful rainy intro of the original, he dispenses with any intro at all and jumps straight to the chorus. He seems to want this to be a single, cutting the original seven minute plus song down to a brisk 3:07, but I would have liked more blujanova atmospherics, as it were, on this one. In fact, he's got great players throughout, including keyboardist Michael
McGregor and fretless bassman Keith Jones, and I wish he'd allow them
shine a bit more. A breakdown in a song or two
would have been nice to show off the mad skills of Munyungo Jackson on
percussion, as well as the others. Waiting for Lily, the instrumental
last tune, allows for a
bit of this. This is a good thing. I kept waiting for the album to lose
it's cool but it wont. It can't. It's blujanova...
Saxon's originals are strong and commercial. His lyrics are sometimes so direct it's startling: 'Saw a man with no legs in a wheelchair roll by/He was smiling...' he sings in Yes is My Favorite Word. He goes on: 'There's so much to try in this real short life/it's a sin not to soak it all in/So by not saying no, I won't have regrets...' Despite the dubious truth of this notion (your in-laws want to move in!), there's a directness there that's can be appealing. Irony may be part of the songwriter's toolkit, but Saxon's plain-spoken lyrics tend to avoid that sort of finish. He's
a singer in the high-pitched, George Benson/Michael Macdonald
vein, and he writes a nice melody. And the production, by Saxon as well as other band members, is outstanding-- clean, clear, well-balanced-- and consistent, which can be tough with three or four separate producers.
Blujanova shines with sweet songs and strong playing, a labor of love by a real pro. Great record for a rainy day, or a cocktail party, or a date with that special someone. And that's not a bad thing.
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