Dakota Jones (from the album Black Light available on Lord Please Records) (by Chris Wheatley)
Any group who namechecks Chaka Khan, Janis Joplin, and Marvin Gaye as inspirations have a lot to live up to but New York based four-piece, Dakota Jones, appear well-equipped to do so. Lead vocalist Tristan Carter-Jones is possessed of an arresting voice, part honeyed-soul and part urban-edge. In Scott Kramp (bass) and Steve Ross (drums), they have a rhythm section capable of muscular, swinging charm, and guitarist Randy Jacobs, formerly of Was (Not Was), can cite Seal, Bonnie Raitt, and Elton John among his collaborative credits. This is clearly a project with pedigree. Production comes from Grammy-winner John Wooler. Kudisan Kai, a backing-vocalist for the aforementioned Chaka Khan, Sting, and Anita Baker, lends her talents, as do keyboardist Jon Gilutin, himself a Grammy-winner, and the wonderful guitarist, Michael Toles.
No surprise, then, that opener “I Did It to Myself” rolls out with a polished, Funk-Soul sheen. Fans of the classic 70s sound will find much to enjoy here, with excellent wah-wah guitar, deep bass, and imaginative drumming. The track does not come across as a homage, however – Dakota Jones have their own thing going on, not least thanks to the unique vocals of Carter-Jones. With a run-time of less than three minutes, “I Did It to Myself” is a shooting-star of a song, lighting up the sky and disappearing before you know it.
The title track is next up, a laidback, shuffling, Pop Funk number, with a frankly wonderful chorus. Here is another key to Dakota Jones' success – these compositions have depth, nuance, and a wonderful accessibility. The perfect balance, you might say. If that sounds like hyperbole, I can only apologize, but it's not that often that a band like this come on the scene. At the risk of pushing things further, a word must be said concerning the guitar playing here. Jacobs and Toles whip up a beautiful storm, incendiary without ever threatening to overwhelm.
“We Playin' Bad Games” opens with the sort of drumming that 80s hip-hop stars would have killed to sample. A slower, smokier track, Carter-Jones handles this as neatly as the more upbeat numbers. It's clear that the assembled players have the chops to tackle anything. Here, they add a lovely, Jazzy feel. Rest assured, though, the Blues lie at the heart of everything that Dakota Jones do. Lyrically, this is personal, cathartic writing, swaggering and assured, but with a knowing vulnerability. “Lord Please” is extraordinary, opening with a striking repeated mantra and some harmonized vocals, a sole, thudding drum the only accompaniment. Such bravery on a debut album is a rare thing indeed.
With its smooth keyboards, rolling chords, and cutting guitar, “Like That” is another standout, sweet as molasses, with captivating vocals and big production. Again, it's the strength of the composition which forms the bedrock. When you add great players to a great song, this is what results. “Noise” takes us out on the crest of a wave, with gliding horns and a velvety sonic palette. There's a bonus track too, “California,” a memorable Blues Rocker which is as visceral as it is compelling. (by Chris Wheatley)
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