When gutsy blues riffs open the debut EP for this young Perth duo-turned-full band, it’s easy to see why they were invited to play the West Coast Blues and Roots Festival earlier this year. Unsatisfied with popular electronic music that their peers were listening to, the original duo of Jack Stirling (vocals, guitar, keys, percussion) and Phill Leggett (rhythm guitar) met in a music store in 2008 and bonded over a love of past and present blues, soul and rock musicians.
They acquired a couple of extra members in the form of Riley Watson-Russell (bass guitar) and Ryan Brewer (drums) after writing the material for their debut EP, Calls In The Night, and realizing that they could push the musical boundaries more with a full band behind them. Their theory worked a treat because this skillfully constructed EP is bluesy enough for the traditionalists but fresh enough for a new generation of fans just discovering the beauty of the genre.
The opening title track cleverly balances badass guitar with breezy vocals, but track two, Into The Light, is a surprising contrast to the powerful Calls In The Night. It’s a stripped-back acoustic track with reflective lyrics projecting honesty and yearning. It slowly builds to a fuller-sounding, summery song with the addition of another guitar, followed closely by percussion. It’s rendered perfectly because it’s musically close to perfect but is relaxed enough to avoid being disconcertingly faultless, remaining fresh and young instead.
A parental-like voice starts scolding “music, stop wasting my time. People like your older brother become an accountant or architect…” at the beginning of Higher Ground. I’m slightly miffed until the smoking hot guitar and driving bass drum kick in. If I wasn’t already convinced that The Joe Kings are one of the greatest new acts of the year, Higher Ground has just sold me. Their carefree, rock ‘n’ roll attitude is purveyed through the raucous blues-rock of the first couple of minutes of the song. But then, pleasantly unexpected, they change gear completely and pull off an amazing switch to harmonica accented, thigh slapping old-style blues. The effortless switch suggests that these guys sure as hell know their stuff and are inspired by the masters, both new and old. Similarities with The Black Keys and Ash Grunwald are matched with Jeff Beck and John Mayall, but The Joe Kings manage to inject their personality into everything, giving their music individuality and brightness.
Don’t Matter To Me is again a brilliantly composed track that opens with smoldering guitars but it’s Gamblin Line that packs the final, knockout punch. Its moody tale of being broke is a theme expressed well with sullen guitars but the intensity of the music is balanced well by Stirling’s smooth and youthful voice. This may be their first release, but The Joe Kings are so incredibly tight that if there’s not more to come, there’s going to be a whole lot of heart-broken fans. Calls In The Night is undoubtedly on of the year’s best new releases and with the band hitting Melbourne for some shows in the next couple of weeks, the biggest favour you could do for yourself is check them out. If they’re this good recorded, they must be ace live.
Update: They are ace live!