On the palate, the difference between jazz and what we know as rock is blues. So naturally when you think of a rock infused jazz you’d be forgiven for thinking of blues.
Well, that most definitely isn’t the case when it comes to Worcester, Mass musician James Keyes. Throughout the eye-opening experience that is The Middle the sound drifts and sways atop a carpet of individuality as it sails across all three genres at once with a simple strum.
To put Keyes’ style in words that are easily associated, imagine Eddie Vedder’s cousin opening for Leonard Cohen while wearing a plaid shirt tied around his waist with a complete jazz ensemble made up of individuals that look like they crawled out from a bluesy bar in the Deep South and itching to fire off pyrotechnics. The fundamentals of blues and jazz bleed through his fresh style that is as comfortable in a smoky little bar as it would be any other venue. But most importantly, Keyes has the balls to be much more than some timid band leader and it shows in each track.
The Middle is the kind of record that will get you moving to your core. Live, there is no doubt you’d be on your feet swaying and clapping in time. On album, yeah, you’re still going to do it. From the haunting storytelling (“The Traveler”) to the piano driven instrumentals (“Root For The Bull”) to the rock laced riffs (“Darkness Come Creeping”), this release has come in, politely shaken everyone’s hand and taken its place in steady rotation at the top of my list.
It might sound somewhat cliché to reference them, but if The Black Keys had seen some shit in their lifetime, they would be James Keyes. The Black Keyes? No? The dark vs. light that comes naturally from Keyes strikes where it counts on every cylinder. The audible knock-down-drag-out that ensues when you hit play on The Middle is not only one of the most comprehensive albums I’ve heard in a while, it is dynamically a world class release.