Following a stream of singles and small releases, Dakota Jones delivers their first LP in the form of a funky, soulful collection titled, Black Light. The album stays true to the band’s ethos, mainly based around the writings of lead singer and prime mover Tristan Carter-Jones whose genuinely personal lyrics and vocal delivery dominate much of the band’s sound. Tracks tend to be short, energetic, and based around themes of authentic, first-person revelations, or sensual slow-burning declarations.
This doesn’t imply that Dakota Jones is a one-woman operation. Beginning with “I Did It To Myself,” the group succeeds in building a well balanced mix that incorporates a variety of shapes and sounds from heavily-phased guitar phrases, buzzy Rhodes piano, and a few organ contributions. The song’s topic falls into Carter-Jones’s favored category of deeply personal exposition. “Blacklight” is another one of the album’s standout tracks that deals with her other favorite musical style—sultry soulful jams sung in a very unique, husky voice. More funky than its jazzy predecessor, a few tempo changes and a nice guitar solo by Randy Jacobs remind the listener that there’s much more to Dakota Jones than its namesake (Dakota being Carter-Jones’s middle name).
A three song stretch in the middle of the album features some of the barest, most-honest songwriting about inner struggle and substance abuse issues in recent memory. Propelled forward by a subtle, but cleverly structured clavinet riff, “Watcha Gonna Do About It” pulls no punches with lines like, “I’m drinking and blacking out,” “I’m driving blind, my head so crazy, ‘cause I’m out my mind.” Perhaps the best of the set, “Medicine,” strips away the band’s usually groovy accompaniment and tempo, leaving Carter-Jones’s voice and basic backing piano to confess her need for her unnamed medicine. The second-half manages to be funky and dark at the same time, and the group throws in one more nifty change at the end to cap this well-written three-part track. “Lord Please” ends this middle trio as a brief (1:55) gospel prayer with a modern twist and excellent backing vocals to support Carter-Jones. It is an intense and revealing run that might be a bit too much for some, but the willingness to be this brutally honest, combined with some excellent musicianship should impress most listeners.
“Black Magic (That Power)” and “Like That” both offer slower, more brooding vehicles that focus on lyrics and vocals, but the supporting musicians and the colors they provide are what flesh-out the mix and make the tracks worthy of subsequent listens. For the mostly modern overall sound of Black Light, “Down Slow” provides the greatest contrast. The traditional structure fits perfectly with Carter-Jones’s organically breathy voice. A number that has the ability to give the listener the feeling that they’ve heard it before, the restrained accompaniment and relaxed delivery create a truly classic love song and the best tune of the collection.
One’s opinion of Black Light will largely depend on two things: appreciation for strong female-based direction and vocals, and love of funky soul-inflected R&B grooves. Listeners who possess these qualities will enjoy the album and love some of the stronger tracks. Not surprisingly, other listeners who like high quality music and are wise enough to try something a bit different should feel the same way. Dakota Jones puts forth a truly creative effort with their first album, and their talent and willingness to take a couple of risks, both musically and emotionally, deserve credit and a receptive audience.
The Review: 8/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– I Did It To Myself
– Down Slow
The Big Hit
– Down Slow