The Thunderthief

John Paul Jones

For nearly 20 years after Led Zeppelin split up, bassist John Paul Jones was in a suspended state of transition. He tried his hand at soundtrack work; produced albums for such heavies as Diamanda Galas, the Mission UK and the Butthole Surfers; played the occasional session — notably for Paul McCartney in the early 80s — and was rebuffed in 1994 by his former bandmates Jimmy Page and Robert Plant when they went out on the road and played long exotic sets heavily stocked with Zeppelin material. It wasn't until 1999 that Jones released his debut solo record called Zooma, a bottom-heavy explosion with slabs of venomous bass work unlike anything he's ever done before. Apparently, after he returned from a short tour opening for King Crimson, Jones was raring for another helping. The Thunderthief, his second album for the Discipline Global Mobile label, goes one step further, with Jones assuming a new role: lead vocalist.

With an "Addicted To Love" style rhythm and Robert Fripp weaving his distinctive web of textures and counterpoints around the bass line, "Leafy Meadows" gets things started off on the right track. Jones then takes the vocal on the title track and a droning wall of reverb rinses out a clean performance, despite the fact that the bassist's voice is suitably generic to the task. Still, there's a reason why Robert Plant was the singer and lyricist in Led Zeppelin as Jones stumbles helplessly through the melancholic "Ice Fishing At Night" and proto-punk flexing of "Angry Angry." At this point, it gets fuzzy as to whether he has gone off on a lark, or is seriously toying with the idea of turning into a full-throttle crooner. Where Jones excels is what Fripp and perhaps others of his ilk may have hoped to exploit — the capriciousness and tomfoolery of experimentation.

Thunderthief is a mish-mash of ideas, many not fully developed, others sheepishly looking for an identity. Somewhere in the middle is Jones poking his nose into a little bit of everything. As a writer, arranger and instrumentalist, Jones is second to none. Tracks like "Hoediddle," "Daphne" and "Shibuyu Bop" warm-up to the idea of taking things further, but lose the pop and fizzle to sustain an equitable semblance. "Down To The River To Pray" is a much more infectious route — a traditional jaunt aglow in a sea of acoustic strings. For "Freedom Song," Jones' vocal exudes a little more flair as he pistol whips the melody with a sparing command of his acoustic arsenal. In the end, one has to commend Jones for his thirst of explorations into regions narrowly conquered. Even though it doesn't always work, one can't help but feel the tug of loyalty for a musician of LED-gendary proportions.

~ Shawn Perry

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