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JP Jones, Folk Rock, and *Magical Thinking*

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Message Steven Francis
John Paul Jones, saddled with the same name as Led Zeppelin's bassist and thus operating under "JP Jones", is a Rhode Island folk musician and rocker who almost caught the fast track to fame in the 70's. He was signed to the Windfall label, a subsidiary of Columbia Records and home to hard rockers Mountain, but at exactly the wrong time, when Clive Davis & Co. decided they didn't like the upstart venture and buried it, Jones going down with the ship.

But now, it's 30 years later and the troubadour is one of America's best-kept secrets, a condition hopefully soon to change. He's been issuing CDs regularly and has just now put out his twelfth, *Magical Thinking*, and not a moment too soon. At a time when damn near every dial position of commercial radio is as gawdawful as ever, this disc is a shining star. Jones is head-shotted on the disc's cover, the weathered countenance of a guy who's seen life and the industry, standing firm without losing his balance, while both took their best shots. There's a hard edge there, just beneath the tentative smile, evincing a musician who's become a bit weary and a lot wiser, imbued with the rough and tumble of making it day to day in a world hostile to loners.

"A Man Stands Up" opens the CD and gives a broad hint of the soul and integrity of the musician-poet's position. A soporific synthesizer floats above Jones' voice and lulls the listener while the lyrics take on an anthemic proportion. The cut's a re-working of a selection from his last CD, Thugs and Lovers, longer and more engaging. In fact, on this release, the composer has chosen to revivify three works from a long catalog, something many Big Time musicians might want to take a cue from. He re-crafts "Prophet in His Prime" as well, from the elder *Jeremiah*, newly cutting in zydeco accordion and sounding very Dylan-ish.

Though Jones wrestles with life, he remains ever the streetwise sage, simultaneously the gift and curse heir to the folk tradition. This, however, isn't limited to the painful ruminations standard to the genre, but takes on rather ribald tones whenever it can. "Wreck the Bed", for instance, is an unusually erotic piece, almost nasty here and there while good-natured, playfully lusty:

I miss your big-girl legs
I miss your cinnamon grin
I miss my little fish's kisses
Down where the waves roll in

You got somewhere to get to
You got somethin' to do
You got somethin' that you got comin'
And I got somethin' for you

It proceeds in a shuffling beat, lazy and thick, with airy guitar glances glazing starry borders to the tune's atmosphere. Once or twice, Jones approaches Tin Pan Alley from the Paul Williams sidestreet (think "Old Souls"), penning laments to pain and pleasure in thoughtful drawing-room memories. His voice holds the savor of many antecedents: Dylan foremost but also Mark Knopfler, a tang of Warren Zevon, and a distant growl of Waits, nonetheless his own man through it all. Those vocal chords show they've been through the mill and traveled many nights, but this only lends an expressive uniqueness while displaying emotional vulnerabilities and strengths, the sort of thing folk music thrives on.

Rebellion is a dominant theme in all of folk and rock, and "That's All Right" steps in with a bounce-step, attractive backing vocals bolstering its unusual acceptance of the lone wolf's role:

They will poke you with an elbow
They'll punch you with a fist
And if no label sticks to you
They'll swear you don't exist

That's all right
That's all right
It's just the way it should be
That's all right

The music of all of *Magical Thinking* is tight while relaxed, showing the easy grace of a professional who very well knows where the pocket is, falling into it every time. Jones continually lets down borders, exposing his heart, ushering listeners into the forgotten realms of life, reflecting on the kaleidoscope we behold from day to day. "Ezmerelda" features what appears to be strings but could be adept synthesizers, a moody tune delivered late at night, pondering the shallow rewards of promiscuity, the bright lights of the fast life. The blunt exposure of a slide to disappointment and pain is tempered by the kindredness the listener him- or herself may have had to the condition at one time or another, the setting sun a metaphor for an approaching wisdom dipped in regret.

"Sufficient" pulls tempo and spirits back up, a bopping spell of admiration for a woman sitting in the center of the singer's warm regard. The title sabotages society's glamour sickness and invokes the sentiment that we're just what we are and that all of it is quite sufficient. The 15-minute "The Fire and the Rose" closes out the entire disc, trad folk stretched out to Homeric lengths, dropping the fire and thunder that often accompany such opuses, organ propping up the backspaces of a small novel. It signals a return to Dylan and the height of the folk movement, where the psyche of the brazen rock world is reminded of its roots. Appropriate to all Jones' tunes, we're left with wistfulness.

This is an affecting disc. It carries such a myriad of flavors, scents, ideas, laments, and ruefully gentle smiles, calling back across the musician's many long years of craft to produce his crowning statement in a field of excellences. *Magical Thinking* is indeed magical listening, wrought by a vet who never lost the spark that drove him to take up the crucible in the first place. Of all the die-hards who have impressed us with their devotions to the Muse, there is perhaps no one more tried and true than Rhode Island's JP Jones, a man who may well be America's most talented yet hidden lion of independent music. This disc at long last should prove to be his shining moment.

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Steven Francis is a Worcester, MA therapist, photography buff, music enthusiast and one-time journalist who gave up the practice years ago in order to make a living.
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JP Jones, Folk Rock, and *Magical Thinking*

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