Most artists, I can pin-point the where, when and how I discovered them. Jared James Nichols, I draw a blank. Regardless of that, Old Glory and the Wild Revival was played constantly, yet still I hungered for more. Finally, Nichols has arrived with a second album. And it makes you want a third.
Black Magic strips back the sheen of its predecessor to make something far dirtier and in the process, eclipses the debut. Building on what came before, Nichols proves why he’s one of the most talked about blues guitarists right now. Varying his style throughout the album, it’s a tight and enjoyable affair and at no point would you think he’s trying to do too much on the album.
In fact, he’s done the complete opposite. With only two of ten tracks clocking above the three-minute mark, he uses a “less is more” approach to great effect. Songs don’t necessarily cry out to have more meat on them length-wise, but if he doubled the tracklist to bring it up to an hour, I think I’d still want more. Once the trippy intro to “Last Chance” subsides, it transforms into a hard rock number loaded with fury and makes his intentions known from the start: he’s pulling no punches.
Far grittier, the album feels like a callback to when blues was king with its old-school feel. This is most prevalent on closing song “What Love” with its “demo” feel to it, giving it that rawer sound, complete with goose-stepping drums creating a proper 60s feel. Elsewhere, “Honey Forgive Me” is the funkiest thing Nichols has ever played, more even than “Can You Feel It” from the debut. Adding in Jessica Childress on top of his guitar work and you’ve got a well-manoeuvred foray into a more soulful angle.
Meanwhile “Don’t Be Scared” and the boogie-infused “Got to Have You” are among the highlights on an album full of gems. With a massive bass line in the former, both are sure to get you moving. Regardless of the vibe of each song, they all have their roots in blues and like all the best players, Nichols doesn’t just play the blues, he feels it. Pair his virtuoso-level playing with his gravelly and impassioned vocals and you’re looking at the next big blues star to sit alongside the likes of Alan Nimmo, Joanne Shaw Taylor and Dorian Sorriaux (not a vocal/guitar combo since he’s in a band with Elin Larsson).
I’ve never truly believed in the “difficult second album”. Moreso these days when new bands manage to top their debut and that’s what Jared James Nichols has done with aplomb. Tapping into various sounds to show the wide array of how blues can sound, on paper, can make for a messy album but here, Nichols has deftly tied it all together to make an incredibly varied and fun album which will keep you guessing as he cements his reputation. Now, about that third album…
Header image by Adam Kennedy
Black Magic is out now