Jools Holland - Swinging The Blues, Dancing The Ska
Bill Cummings 07/11/2005
“Hi, I'm Jools Holland. you may remember me as the keys man in eighties band Squeeze and for my appearances as a television host on the Tube and more recently Later…! Here is my new album!” In my dreams this is how Jools Holland introduces this new album. As we all know Jools is more well connected than the national grid: witness his previous albums featuring guest vocals from such musical “luminaries” as Suggs, Tom Jones, and Jay Kay. Here he's dispensed with most of the famous British pop guest vocalists, he is now relying on more traditional blues and soul vocalists and the massive range of instrumentalists in his band to produce an album of twenty one tracks (yes that's 21!) of old blues and jazz standards plus some retreads of popular classics with varying results. Imagine the bluesy boogie-woogie bits where Jools tinkles away between the good bands on his Later… programme then you're already half way to envisaging the sound of this collection.
To some extent the range of styles covered in the classics is admirable. There's a nifty version of the T Bone Walker classic “You Don't Love Me” a nice ska tune called “Feeling Fine” and a rerecording of the Solomon Burke classic “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love” featuring the man himself, while the sunshine ska of “Be My Guest” will place anyone on a Jamaican beach even in the dead of this winter. But the cover of “Blowin In The Wind” is a miss: it waters down any of the original's political power with its use of a more playful jazzy piano arrangement. Some of the originals are enjoyable though, the soulful bluster added by guest vocalist Ruby Turner breathes life into the bluesy workout of “Countryman.”
But elsewhere there are some quite bog-standard big band and jazz retreads that wouldn't sound out of place as restaurant backing music, for example “Casbah Blues” sounds like big band light and “Double Boogie” is the kind of thing knocked out in many a rhythm and blues band jam on most cruise ships. Coffee table music for the Mondeo man, swing music may be back but some of the more obviously commercial elements of this album make it a bit passé and boring in places.
There's no doubt Jools Holland is a talented blues and jazz pianist, indeed some of this is bright breezy and enjoyable, and the range of instruments on show is refreshing. But his unwillingness to stretch the genres within which his band works limits this album. His band often retreads, covers or re-appropriates old standards without adding much new to the originals apart from a jazz or blues band approximation that could probably be found (admittedly of a lesser musical standard) on a CD of lift music.