Review by Kent Manthie
Hailing from the UK (Coventry and London), Ken Jones has just self-released Hiding Places, a new, laid-back pop album which shows a lot more intelligence than most pop crap. In fact, at first, I was loath to use the word “pop” for fear of the stigma attached to it – most of the time, when “pop” is being talked about, it’s usually bowdlerized hip-hop, saccharine/bubble gum junk that makes me nauseated.
However, I really don’t know what other kind of “label” to give it – no fan of labels, myself, I still needed to give Ken’s music some context, I needed to call it something – right? So, “pop”, which is such a wide-encompassing term, anyway, was something I felt safe in starting out with.
BUT – when you get into the 12 tracks that make up Hiding Places, it becomes clear that it’s no brainless dance music, rather one gets a beautifully done package of love songs, personal lyrical ballads, hopeful tunes that inspire rather than foment angst and faux-existentialism, since pop stars wouldn’t know existentialism if Jean-Paul Sartre came up and smacked them across the face with a copy of Nausea.
OK, so maybe I’m wrong in calling it “pop”. But, then, the question arises, “what do you call it?” It isn’t metal, it isn’t avant-garde or experimental, ambient or hardcore or dubstep, so…? In the 1970s, though, this sort of cerebral stuff would’ve been in the class of “singer/songwriters”, which, indeed, it is. Ken Jones is a gifted songwriter and a talented musician.
On Hiding Places, Jones teamed up with musician friends Megan Evans, Jim Radford, Andy Jones, Paul Forey and C.J. Thorpe.
Back when he was 15, Ken began playing in a variety of different bands, but it wasn’t until 6 years later, in 2011, when he was 21that he began showing up at various small clubs around town on “open mic” nights, where he’d try out new songs he’d written for appreciative audiences. I don’t see how he fit into this, but, in the summer of 2011 Ken joined the London-based metal band, Corrosive Soul. If nothing else, Jones, who played lots of gigs with Corrosive Soul, throughout venues in London and Southwestern England in 2012 and 2013. Before the gigs with Corrosive Soul made him a busy man, he could be seen, down in various Tube stations or on a street corner “busking” (playing music on a street corner). I recall when I used to live in San Francisco “busking”, a term I’d not heard before (probably British slang), was all over the place – in BART stations, on busy streetcorners, etc. and a lot of these street musicians were pretty good. I recall hearing a talented sax player, that would go on and on, his blue notes bouncing all over the downtown office buildings and providing a nice soundtrack to anyone walking the streets. Los Angeles had its share of buskers too, but (unfortunately, since I hate it here), I’ve been living in San Diego for a while now and that is one thing you don’t see at all around here – I rarely ever see any street musicians, with an acoustic guitar or even an electric hooked up to a little Pig Nose amp, either run on batteries or plugged into an available outdoor outlet. With this setup, I remember hearing some really talented guitarists just sitting there jamming. Honestly, I would love to get back to San Francisco to live – the only setback is that it’s so damn expensive to live there – the rent is only 2nd to Manhattan and Brooklyn’s unbelievably high rents: how anyone can afford to live in an apartment in NYC without being rich, is beyond me.
In 2012, after getting some well-deserved attention, Jones was finally able to quit his day job and hen worked towards his goal of getting into the Music Academy, in London. Finally, last year he was taken on as a student at “TMS”, where he studied electric bass and starting in October, will be playing the bass in different bands for the practice and, I suspect, the exposure (?) but at the same time promoting this solo album. Besides playing solo acoustic gigs, he also performs with Megan Evans as an acoustic duo called Chasing Nowhere. Another project Jones has going is a Coventry-based pop-punk outfit called 99 Lives, featuring, besides Ken, of course, Paul Forey and David Gardner.
Another talent to ascribe to Mr. Jones, is one of an accomplished didgeridoo player and with that he is part of a community music project, called Unlock the Music.
Another project Jones has been doing is writing songs with Jim Radford, one half of the duo, These Curious Thoughts, who, coincidentally, I reviewed back in June of 2013 for their album, Building Mountains From the Ground. TCT is made up of Jim, who lives in England and writes the lyrics, while the other half, Sean Dunlop, who lives in the US, in Detroit and writes the music. The two collaborate via the internet and, after hearing their music, I see that it works just fine. If you were to scroll way down from this review, to the June, 2013 time frame, you’ll see the review. It’ll be interesting to hear what comes of the collaboration of Jim and Ken.
If I may, a few songs worth mentioning as standouts on Hiding Places include: “Falling Away” a song Jones wrote with Jim Radford. It starts as a lovely acoustic ditty and then pumps up about 2+ in, when the electric guitars chime in and the drums keep a steady beat. Also, “Postcard from Libya” is an interesting tune, starting off with arpeggiottic tom-toms, some “aw-aw-awwww”s and a Mid-East vibe mixed with a drum heavy song with acoustic guitars fiercely strumming away, Hard to figure out what they’re driving at except, maybe the nascent changes abounding in that beautiful North African country. Also worth hearing is the great, haunting “California Sun”, the penultimate song on the album, followed by the closer, a remix of the selfsame “California Sun (Code: Marla Remix)”. Anyway, the original is a quiet, acoustic song that has an edginess about it as well as a catchy as hell hook to it. The ethereal, atmospheric vocals give it that eerie quality to it. This is definitely one of the best tunes on the album.
But, the whole album is great! At about 46 minutes, it’s not too long and not too short. A “Goldilocks” album – “just right!” I hope to hear more from Ken Jones and his cohorts in the near future. Meanwhile, keep your eyes peeled for the next time he and his band play at a club near you. –KM.