Finding A Pearl
It is one of life’s joys – finding new music that immediately becomes a firm favourite. It hadn’t happened for a quite a while, but it has happened today.
I love old Country. I love the songs and voices of Hank Williams, Dock Boggs, Stanley Brothers, The Carter Family.
And Dennis Jay.
‘Primicia’ is a four-track EP by Mr Jay and is released through Linkhorn Records. I downloaded it via iTunes.
Let me tell you why.
There’s an ancient Southern dignity to this music and echoes of Country’s past in his voice. Jay croons, quivers and evokes. His songs play from a 100 year-old jukebox in the corner of a bar, lost on a highway between two dying towns. Every song has an atmosphere and I like the places he visits.
‘I Opened Your Letter’ is Elvis and Ralph Stanley duetting. It is blue-moon lonesome, plaintive and beautiful. This man can clearly write a well-crafted song. The simple guitar and keening fiddle provide the backing and space his voice deserves.
The title track ‘Primicia’ is a Tex-Mex mix of Roy Orbison and Jimmie Rodgers. It’s a peculiar track and, should a video ever be made for it, I would choose David Lynch to direct.
A Little History
Born in the Midwest, Dennis Jay grew up listening to a lot of Armed Forces radio – which tended to play Rhythm & Blues, Rockabilly and Country, rather than ‘Pop’ or ‘Rock & Roll’.
Mr Jay recalled: “A lot of the music was from The South and they’d play a lot of rhythm and blues and a lot of country music. Back then the armed forces were one of the most integrated parts of society, and that was reflected in what the DJs played. It was all just music – not black music, not white music – and most of it was somewhat out of date.”
Armed with a Martin D-18 acoustic, the young Jay travelled throughout the Midwest, Northwest, South and Southwest, even staying briefly in Greenwich Village, writing as he went. Jay stayed in Washington DC in the 1980s, before moving back to Texas in 2006, where he now resides. Mr Jay has performed with various bands, as well as doing solo shows, and even opened for Steve Earle.
After an extended break from the music business, living and working at a cemetery, Dennis found a pile of his songs on old tapes that he had posted to himself (as a basic copyright). These unopened cassettes proved to be the source and inspiration for his solo CD ‘What You See’ – a vital, rocking shot of old-time Country.
Then came ‘Primicia’ with its four treasures, beautifully recorded by David E. McKittrick.
A Bar, A Woman & The Perfect Song.
The stand-out track, for me, is the final one. With the sound of bar-room heaven – cracked vocals, black humour, boot heels and pedal steel – ‘That Last Night’ is a fantastic lesson in economy:
‘Price on romance is two bucks for a dance.
She slips the bills into her brassiere.
That last night soothed my fever,
with Hank Williams and Billie Holiday.
Sad songs and sweat on the sheets.
Blues rolling out on the bay.’
For me, song-writing doesn’t get better than this. Not a single word is wasted. There’s no small-talk or embellishment – he shines a light in the dark corners, tells us what he sees and leaves. His songs sit comfortably beside those of Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers.
In the Tower Of Song, Dennis Jay has his own room. He deserves a penthouse. I shall be knocking on his door regularly – I want to hear his stories and I like the voice he tells them with. I know I will be listening to this singular voice for the rest of my life.
Dennis Jay – Vocals and Guitar. Tim Griffin and David McKittrick – Lead Guitar. Bob Graver – Bass. Ron Rogers – Resonator guitar. Joe Connell – percussion. Sue Jones – fiddle.
All photos are © 2012 James Finch. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Contact owner before using.
Venues: Iota, Arlington VA, July 2006 & House Concert Chez Dave’s. August 29th 2010. Chez Dave’s House. Falls Church, VA. Hosted by David and Lisa.
Article is Copyright © 2016 William Henry Prince.
Thanks to: James Finch (for the introduction to Mr Jay’s music and the cracking shots), David McKittrick for additional information and Linkhorn Records.
Dennis Jay is now on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/dennis.jay.756
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