I knew half of Jawbone, Paddy Milner (keyboards) and Marcus Bonfanti (guitar) who share the vocal duties, from Marcus’ own albums and their involvement with The Boom Band, so I was expecting Jawbone to have a Blues/Rock feel. However, given that the four individuals have racked up playing time with members of Cream, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Roxy Music and the Rolling Stones, I should have realised that Jawbone’s original music would reflect a far broader range of influences.
Milner and Bonfanti’s songwriting partnership was born out of a friendship dating back to a house share a decade ago, while Rex Horan (bass) and Evan Jenkins (drums) were musical colleagues in Australia before relocating to the UK. The group’s name came from a song by The Band, while Little Feat, the Rolling Stones and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young are among their many influences. Having had the good fortune to hear them play live at Ronnie Scott’s very recently, I’d say there’s definitely Rock, Blues and Americana in the Jawbone mix.
Opening track ‘Leave No Traces’ was the first song Milner and Bonfanti wrote together, but there’s nothing tentative about it. Their love for CSNY’s (or certainly CSN’s) vocal harmony is evident from the following ‘Get What You Deserve’, although the words are a subtle dig at another, unnamed musician! ‘When Your Gun Is Loaded’ demonstrates the humour in many of the band’s lyrics, specifically when saying the wrong thing is akin to shooting yourself in the foot (been there? Thought so!).
Despite not being among the band’s listed influences, I can hear a little of Steely Dan in ‘Family Man’, while the horns added on ‘Bet On Yesterday’ give it the feel of one of the better tunes from a spaghetti western. Humour is back in evidence on ‘Rolling On The Underground’, an older composition which Milner and Bonfanti revisited for this album; in it they tried to drop in the names of as many London tube stations as possible (readers of a certain vintage may recall a classic Two Ronnies sketch which did the same)!
‘Big Old Smoke’ has a Rolling Stones feel to it and, in my opinion, features the best guitar work on the album. The fact that it felt like the highlight of the CD to me may be one reason why the closing trio of songs seemed just a bit lightweight by comparison; ‘Sit Round The Table’s lyrics, in particular, sound rather middle of the road. ‘Two Billion Heartbeats’ was based on the idea that we might have a finite number of heartbeats in our lifetimes, while the closing ‘The Years Used To Mean So Much’ is Paddy’s nostalgic look back on his childhood in Dorset.
Maybe the running order of the tracks could have been tweaked to give the album a more rousing send off or maybe I’m falling into the trap of judging the disc by what it isn’t (i.e. the anticipated Blues/Rock), rather than by what it is. Certainly Paddy and Marcus are both fine players, but the album doesn’t quite replicate the energy of the band’s live performances, during which Marcus’ vocals tend to sound richer. Maybe a live album (or even a DVD to show the terrific bassist Rex in all his eccentric glory!) will be the answer further down the line; in the meantime the album is well worth a listen and should ensure that the band’s gigs are deservedly well attended.