Jane Lee Hooker Deliver Strong New Album Rollin’

Today, Jane Lee Hooker released their third studio album Rollin’ and it’s a fun listening experience! The New York rock band has been on my radar screen since I caught them live at a summer-in-the-park concert on the Jersey shore in August 2017. Two things struck me right away: Their raw power and that they were an all-female band, something that remains relatively rare to this day. Four and a half years later, the group delivers an album that offers their familiar hard-charging guitar-driven rock, as well as some new elements, including acoustic blues and vibes of soul.

While Jane Lee Hooker’s music is generally categorized as blues-rock, I feel their own characterization as being a blend of rock & roll, blues, punk, R&B and soul is more accurate. That’s especially the case on the new album. Jane Lee Hooker were founded in 2013 by Dana “Danger” Athens (vocals), Tina “T-Bone” Gorin (guitar), Tracy Hightop (guitar), Hail Mary Zadroga (bass), Tracy Hightop (guitar) and Melissa “Cool Whip” Houston  (drums) – in addition to the cool band name, you just gotta love these stage names! The group’s original line-up remains in place to this day, except for Houston who left in 2020 and has been replaced by ‘Lightnin’ Ron Salvo

Jane Lee Hooker (from left): Tina Gorin, Dana Athens, Ron Salvo, Mary Zadroga, Tracy Hightop. Photo by Rob Carter.

In 2015, Jane Lee Hooker signed with Ruf Records, a prominent independent German blues and blues-rock label, and released their debut No B! in April 2016, a collection of high-energy blues covers. This was followed by sophomore release Spiritus in November 2017, which featured originals. According to the band’s Facebook page, Rollin’ was written and recorded during the pandemic, which resulted in Jane Lee Hooker trying out new methods of songwriting and recording.

With COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing requirements in effect in NYC, the band found themselves locked out of their Brooklyn rehearsal room – the creative space where they write and rehearse with amps cranked up at maximum volume. Says singer Dana Athens, “Aside from Jericho and Lucky, which were written before 2020, the rest of the songs on Rollin’ were primarily written on acoustic instruments in my backyard while social distancing underneath the grapevines my Greek grandparents planted in 1968. We had this oasis to gather and make music and pass the time the pandemic had afforded us.”

She continues, “…we recorded this record very differently than we have done with our other albums. Beginning with focusing on drums at one studio, then tracking vocals, guitars, and other things at two other locations. This process was very different from our “plug-and-play’ attitude of yore.” Let’s check out some music!

Here’s the opener Lucky, a smoking mid-tempo blues rocker. Like all of the other six original tunes on the album, the song is credited to the entire band. “I love how “Lucky” came together because it was written in Fred’s studio on Stanton St. during practice out of the blue,” Zadroga recalled. “We took a smoke break and were saying we needed to write something new. All of it. Together!”

Drive is one of three tracks that were released as upfront singles. The soul-oriented rock ballad is my personal favorite on the album. “I was not intending to write about travel, the song is really about long-standing plans to see a friend and how you can still feel connected to someone no matter the distance between you,” Athens told Blues Matters! “Lockdown made these friends seem even further away, so I guess the song also contains a bit of escapism and fantasy – wishing that you could be together.” I love Athens’ vocals and keyboards and the beautiful guitar work.

Next up is Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, one of two covers on Rollin’. The original is a jazz tune written by Austrian jazz keyboarder and composer Joe Zawinul in 1966 for Cannonball Adderley. Athens, who had not known the instrumental until she coincidentally came across it on Spotify, added lyrics. “Dana picked this cover months before recording, but we hadn’t arranged much less played it, until the end of our session,” explained Salvo. “It came together perfectly and Dana’s lyrical stamp made it our own.” Jane Lee Hooker did a great job with their rendition. If you’re curious, you can check out the original here.

White Gold, a neat acoustic blues tune, provides a nice contrast to the otherwise electric sound of the album. “I can’t remember the name of the studio in Woodstock [Dreamland Recording StudiosCMM], but it was an old church,” Hightop said. “Matt [producer Matt ChiaravalleCMM] and Ron [drummer Ron SalvoCMM] had already gone to sleep and Dana, T-Bone and I snuck back into the old dark church to practice the song. Just two guitars and Dana’s massive voice filling the church.” Added Gorin: “I always knew we had a song like this in us. It doesn’t even feel like a departure for us to me. We always had roots in our music and this shows our purer side of that.”

The last track I’d like to call is Runaway Train, another blues rocker. “I guess I started writing this one in late 2019,” Athens pointed out. “I didn’t want to
use the potentially over-used train theme, but the song just came out. At this time Mary and I were getting together at my house to write and jam. The very first recording of this song is a voice memo from December 2019 of just Mary and I fleshing it out.” Salvo added, “Sounds exactly as the name implies! High speed and off the rails.” Gorin concluded, “Very JLH tune. We love dealing out energy and this one is the perfect vehicle for that.”

“Somehow, amidst the chaos of a global pandemic, we were able to write and record what I feel is our best work as a band yet,” Athens summed up the album. “Astounding that some things, like writing music with each other, will always be a beautiful and safe world, even during a worldwide health disaster like COVID19,” added Gorin. Hightop concurred, stating, “We were really able to take our time and do these amazing songs justice. This album is just next level in so many respects.” I have to agree. With a more diversified sound, Rollin’ feels like a step up from the band’s two previous albums.

Rollin’, a self-released album, was produced and mixed by Matt Chiaravalle who has worked with the likes of Joe Bonamassa, Warren Zevon and Courtney Love. It was recorded at three studios: Virtue and Vice Studios in Brooklyn, NY; Dreamland Recording Studios in Woodstock, NY; and Mercy Sound Recording Studios in New York, NY).

Here’s a Spotify link to the album:

As a bonus, here’s a live version of Drive I captured at a recent album release party in New York City. Thanks again to the band’s manager Gregg Bell who kindly invited me to the fun event and took the time to chat for a few minutes. He’s actually based in Australia, and this gig was the first time for him to see the band live – well, they certainly rocked the place!

On May 13, Jane Lee Hooker are scheduled to kick off a European tour to support the new album, including The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Austria. Their current schedule is here.

Sources: Wikipedia; JLH Facebook page & website; JHL press kit; Blues Matters; YouTube, Spotify

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Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to my latest look at newly-released music, which is slightly delayed due to a very busy week on the home and work fronts. But the show must go on, even if it’s a bit later than usual, so let’s get to it right away. Except for the final tracks, all songs appear on releases that dropped yesterday (November 5).

David Nail/Comeback History

First up is the latest by David Nail, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter I featured in a previous Best of What’s New installment in December 2020. Nail who, grew up in Kennett, Mo., recorded an eponymous album in 2002, which generated a charting country single, Memphis, but due to staff changes at his then-label Universal Music Group Nashville, the record never appeared. His first released album became the appropriately titled I’m About to Come Alive in August 2009. After putting out three more solo albums, Nail formed David Nail & The Well Ravens in July 2018, an independent project with longtime colleagues Jason Hall and Andrew Petroff. They independently released the album Only This And Nothing More in September 2018. This bring me to Comeback History, a track off Nail’s new solo solo EP Bootheel 2021. It’s another great song that once again reminds me a bit of Bruce Springsteen. Check it out!

Emma Ruth Rundle/Return

On to another American singer-songwriter, Emma Ruth Rundle, who was born in Los Angeles is based in Seattle, Wa. From her Apple Music profile: The singer and guitarist for California post-rock/psych-metal outfit Marriages, a member of Isis-connected post-rockers Red Sparowes, and frontwoman for atmospheric psych-folk/slowcore collective Nocturnes, singer/songwriter, guitarist, and visual artist Emma Ruth Rundle is also an accomplished solo artist. Since debuting in 2014 with the acclaimed gothic folk/post-rock effort Some Heavy Ocean, Rundle has issued a string of evocative albums, including a 2020 collaboration with Louisiana sludge metallers Thou and 2021’s stripped-down and unflinching Engine of Hell. Here’s Return, the opener of the aforementioned Engine of Hell. The haunting song and Rundle’s vocals make for a powerful combination that drew me in right away.

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats/The Future

Denver, Colo.-based Americana-influenced singer-songwriter Nathaniel Rateliff is best known as frontman of Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, a band he formed in 2013. Prior to launching The Nights Sweats and a solo career, Rateliff founded two other groups, Born in the Flood and The Wheel, and released an album with each, If This Thing Should Spill (February 2007) and Desire and Dissolving Men (November 2007), respectively. The latter could be viewed as his debut solo album. The first record to appear under Rateliff’s name only was In Memory of Loss from May 2010. Fast-forward 11 years to The Future, the third and new album by Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats. Here’s the title track. The warm roots sound is right up my alley. The horns add a great soulful vibe. Great music I got to check out more closely!

Jane Lee Hooker/All Good Things

I’d like to wrap up this installment with the latest single from Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Jane Lee Hooker, a great female-led blues rock band I’ve featured several times on the blog before, for example here and here. Here’s All Good Things, the band’s third new single this year, which came out on October 29. Here’s more from a press release: The origin of All Good Things goes back to August of 2020 when, in addition to dealing with the Covid pandemic, guitarist Tracy Hightop’s NJ neighborhood was hit with a severe storm that ravaged the area and knocked out power in the community. With her family headed out of town, Tracy was left at home with her two French bulldogs, no electricity and a small fan plugged into a neighbor’s generator. “That first night they were gone was miserable – the storm left the weather so hot and humid.” Hightop recalls. “I made my way through a couple bottles of wine that evening before falling asleep on the couch with the dogs. When I woke up the next morning the electricity was still off, I was hung-over as hell, it was still very warm and the sound of the generators was deafening. I was scrolling through Facebook on my phone and came across an old photo of Howlin’ Wolf with his guitar, drinking out of a bottle of whiskey – and I thought this picture is exactly how I feel right now. I picked up my Gibson Hummingbird and as soon as I started playing, All Good Things came pouring out. I recorded a rough version on my phone and sent it to (singer) Dana…” [Dana Athens – CMM]. All Good Things was produced and mixed by Matt Chiaravalle (Joe Bonamassa, Warren Zevon, Courtney Love), and mastered by Grammy winner Emily Lazar (Foo Fighters, Garbage, Beck, The Killers, Linkin Park). While the tune’s origins sound like a classic blues story, the outcome is actually a feel-good blues rocker. The tune will also appear on the band’s upcoming new album Rollin’ slated for January 2022. Looking forward to that one!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Jane Lee Hooker press release; YouTube