EJ Jones,
The Willow
(Tidy Cottage, 2002)

Before E.J. Jones was born, a willow was planted in the backyard of the house he grew up in. And as he grew, so did the tree, becoming "a place of adventure and sanctuary" for the boy. Now, The Willow has become a 39-minute album that will take your imagination to the limit with its variety, while making you feel comfortable with its delightful musicianship and warm arrangements.

Jones attracted attention as a member of Clandestine, the sadly now defunct Texas-based Celtic band. Now this solo album enhances his reputation not only as a musician, but also as a composer. It opens with two versions of his own tune, "The Willow." On the first, he plays it as a Scottish air on the great Highland pipes; after establishing the melody, a sweeping piano accompaniment and a drawn fiddle add color until they too join the melody. It's a lulling tune that encourages harmony and carries you along. But the tune is also a lilting piece that steps forward quickly, adapting perfectly into the fast reel of the second track; this time, he plays Scottish smallpipes and has a guitar accompaniment, soon to be joined by bombarde and percussion.

Not only is he a piper (as shown by his website address, piperjones.com) and bombarde player, elsewhere on the album, he also plays whistle and flute. The traditional "Castle of Dromore" is a gentle waltz that features his flute playing. There is tenderness in the melody that he brings to the fore and which is emphasized by the accompaniment. Gerry O'Beirne, who also produced the album, plays guitar, maintaining a simple waltz rhythm, but then adding a haunting slide guitar.

With musicians like O'Beirne and Rosie Shipley (fiddle), there is a strong Irish influence to the music that neatly balances the Scottish sound of the pipes. Tunes like "The Gravel Walk" and "Silver Spear" also steer the album in that direction. Tracks such as the "Breton Dance" and "The End of the World" take the album into other realms; the latter with its insistent drums and pound bass, the former with its ocean sounds and repetitious smallpipes. "Breton Dance" also features the airy voice of Clandestine bandmate, Jennifer Hamel.

Along with O'Beirne, Shipley and Hamel, a number of other musicians add their talents to the album, including Paul English (piano), Randy Miller (bass) and drummer Walter Cross and percussionist Wolf Loescher.

O'Beirne's guitar work is featured throughout the album, proving that he not only is one of the most sympathetic accompanists around, but he's also one of the best producers. (His playing on the "Breton Dance" needs to be heard -- such a delightful use of harmonics, rhythm and harmony!)

Throughout, Jones demonstrates his ability as a musician and writer. He has chosen and arranged nine excellent sets of tunes, creating a well-rounded album. And he has surrounded himself with a fine group of musicians who are very much in sympathy with his style. And for those interested in live music, he closes the album with the "Oak Table" set, a whistle and fiddle duet by Jones along with Rosie Shipley, to O'Beirne's guitar -- these three musicians make up the Willow Band, a gem of a trio which plays away from his home base and is well worth going out of your way to see.

- Rambles
written by Jamie O'Brien
published 2 August 2003

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