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Jared James Nichols - Black Magic (Album Review)

Thursday, 09 November 2017 Written by Simon Ramsay

Photo: Adam Kennedy

You have to wonder why so many artists drop the ball on their second album. Just take what worked from the debut, ditch what didn’t and work hard at being better. Is that over-simplifying things? Only if you haven’t fallen under the spell of ‘Black Magic’, a sophomore battering ram of primal blues-rock from Jared James Nichols.

Employing the slogan ‘BLUES POWER’, Nichols is a true throwback who lives his music. Many have attempted to give classic rock a contemporary spin, but few have reached the level of authenticity the man from Wisconsin exhibits on this record.

Where the 28-year-old’s debut, 2015’s ‘Old Glory and the Wild Revival’, was the sound of a young musician still refining his artistic identity and occasionally stumbling, ‘Black Magic’ finds Nichols stamping his own personality onto the genre in a way that perfectly balances reverence with idiosyncrasy.

It helps that he fronts a shit-kicking power trio and opener Last Chance is powered by a Motörhead-sized engine alongside face-melting fretwork. Don’t Be Scared’s stomping, elephantine riff could be a Deep Purple motif, while Got To Have You is like the Who boogying down with T-Rex.

Some may complain about the record’s 30 minute length, but there’s ample bang for your buck here. From the southern rock of Home and Run to the bastardised Black Sabbath menace of Keep Your Light On Mama, Nichols traverses the rock 'n’ roll landscape with unwavering class.

Aided by producer Tony Perry (son of Aerosmith’s Joe) Nichols’ songwriting has grown more focused and consistent, with The Gun a prime example. Built upon a tobacco-chewing Delta blues motif, the way he empties the space on the suspenseful bridge, before its anthemic hook hits, is simply masterful. His vocals, which previously ranged from very good to stretched, are also significantly stronger.  

There’s a level of musical intelligence here that, unsurprisingly, is embodied by his playing. Incendiary riffs like the one on End of Time channel Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore and Jimi Hendrix, while every lead burst is a memorable mini-narrative that enhances, subtly moves and occasionally drags a song forward as required. Nichols also knows how to end a solo and transition seamlessly back into the body of a track. That’s something many modern, often high profile, guitarists consistently fail to grasp.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about ‘Black Magic’ is the feeling that Nichols is just getting started. It’s often suggested there’s little new ground to mine when it comes to classic rock but, with such an abundant skillset and feel for the genre, he could well take it in new directions and reshape the landscape in his own image.  

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