Ayron Jones and his mentor, Sir Mix-a-Lot, don’t like to define Jones’ music with labels like “blues” or “hybrid rock.” They don’t necessarily welcome comparisons to the giants that have influenced Jones, namely Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix.
But it’s hard to listen to Jones’ debut album, “Dream,” without hearing the ghosts of the past — and without viewing the album as the next evolution of the blues, a way for it to stay relevant to a new generation. “Dream,” self-released today and produced by Mix-a-Lot, is a fiery, raw blend of blues and rock that makes the familiar seem new.
It starts with the slow-building intro of “On Two Feet I Stand,” which showcases Jones’ distinctive voice (he’s got a pleasing, throaty blues growl that can turn sweet when he needs it to) before he unleashes a maelstrom of stinging guitar riffs that should be instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with the blues.
But this is something else, too. The guitar is distorted, the bass omnipresent and the drums hot. Everything has a compression to it that further defines it as a product of the present — what Jones described as “this new digital era.” Jones grew up in the Central District and hip-hop, soul, gospel and Seattle’s legendary grunge scene all affect his approach.
Much like the heart of a baseball lineup, Jones and his band the Way have wisely front-loaded the album with their strongest material. The second track is “Feedin’ From the Devil’s Hands,” the lead single featuring a chorus that recalls Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” and a burning wah-wah guitar solo that will have fans of SRV smiling.
Some of the music can seem a bit derivative, which is to be expected from a debut album that’s influenced so heavily by a venerable genre. “My Love Remains” has a similar chord structure and vibe as a number of blues-rock ballads, most noticeably Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s “While We Cry” — which itself sounds an awful lot like Pearl Jam’s “Yellow Ledbetter,” which owes a lot to SRV who . . . well, you get the point.
Don’t think the similarities, that chain of influences, escape Jones. He’s a student of the blues and the local music scene, and it’s clear that everything from playing in a three-piece band to pulling out some familiar riffs is all part of the plan.
Perhaps the song that sounds the most original and also best captures the bass-heavy, hip-hop influenced production values is “Bounce Your Head.” There’s something sinister lurking in the compressed, thick sound as Jones crows, “I’m sorry but enough’s enough/ain’t no use in acting tough.” “Feedin'” might be the lead single, but “Bounce Your Head” is the real ear worm.
Jones admitted that before he entered the studio to record “Dream” he wasn’t an experienced songwriter. He said he had a lot of “jams” that needed to have their ideas fleshed out, and you can hear the work he put in with Mix-a-Lot to create appealing songs. Some of them still sound a bit rough and a few of the ideas Jones presents as he’s hammering away at his guitar don’t fully evolve.
Those are minor complaints about a guy who can flat-out shred. “Dream” might be the realization of a lifelong goal for Jones, but it’s clear that the best is yet to come.
-Owen R. Smith, on Twitter @inanedetails