According to the saying: The only true American art form is Jazz. I would have to add the Blues to that list. So there we have it. Two.
Now the most promising young Blues singer I’ve heard in a long time, Jamie N Commons, is making the rounds.
The Blues originated in African-American communities in the deep south at the end of the 19th century. They were built from spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts, and chants. It is characterized by specific chord progressions from the twelve bar blues chord progression. But it’s so much more than that. The Blues is a way of life. The Blues is a story of life but perhaps more importantly it’s the emotion of a life that most likely hasn’t gone swimmingly. In other words, you have to live the Blues before you can sing it.
So what in the hell is this 22 year old Londoner doing even attempting the Blues much less doing them with such authenticity?
First off you need to be able to have the voice. Arguably the easiest part. The least subjective aspect and, well, Commons has that in spades. So then there’s the subject matter. Much like Nick Cave, or Johnny Cash, Commons touches on the darkest aspects of life. Executions (“The Preacher”), heartbreak (“Lola”), and suicide (“Hold On”), comprise three of the five songs off his EP The Baron.
At 6 years old Commons and his family was uprooted from Bristol, and plunked down in Chicago. They lived there for 10 years and this is where he heard the sound he couldn’t escape. Once back in England, he taught himself the guitar and moved to London to attend Goldsmiths and study music. **
** He was classmates of site favorite James Blake but apparently didn’t know him very well. “Although I didn’t really know what he [James] did. It wasn’t until the third year that suddenly he was off to meet Universal and it was like, oh.”
Invariably his sound is studied instead of coming from a natural home of American poverty and American struggles but he defends himself by saying “If I didn’t think it was genuine I wouldn’t sing in that way.” Pretty straight forward.
“The Preacher” is my favorite Commons track. It tells the story of an evangelical preacher from Alabama who strangled his wife, chopped her up and put her carcass in a freezer. The dark story telling of a talented kid from Bristol. A Brit who just wants to sing the Blues. Informally trained in the states. Formally schooled in London. Just, please, don’t add any wobbly base Jamie.
His official site. Happy Friday.