New soul and old tricks from Nooky Jones

If it were released on LP as well as CD, we’d put a copy of the new Nooky Jones album in our “Make Out Music” section.┬áThe band is playing a two night stand at the Icehouse to celebrate the release of their debut disc, and we recommend you bring someone special if you plan on going — you’ll want to slow dance to closing time come-ons like “You and I” and you’ll want to look lovingly across the table when the band’s star, Cameron Kinghorn, sings in all seriousness lines like “Oh, how can I fall asleep without you there?” and “Girl to me you’re too damn beautiful.”

It’s that sincerity and dedication to form which makes Nooky Jones so surprisingly successful without stumbling into the potential pitfalls of formulaic neo-soul. While the disc has shades of big-name contemporaries like D’Angelo and Thundercat, its warm horns and keyboard sound also recalls eighties soul and jazz. Kinghorn’s sharp elocution is that of a seasoned jazz singer.

It’s in this capacity that he can make a refrain like “I hope she noticed that I noticed her so casually” not only work, but stick with you long after you’ve listened to the last song. Incidentally, you can check out that last one, in the song “Hello,” in a live performance on the Current here. It’s one of the best tracks on the album, but our favorites are the richly romantic “You And I” mentioned earlier, and “Bad Girl,” which contains both the most modern and the most ‘retro’ moments on the disc. The song’s long outro offers a showcase for the band’s horns, who are used with distinct subtlety throughout the album but here are let loose.

Kinghorn was kind enough to drop off a promotional copy of the disc here at the record shop, but it doesn’t include individual credits. If it did we’d be sure to praise the individual performances of the band. It takes a lot of restraint to make such minimal arrangements work so well, and these musicians have made something remarkable in that capacity. In addition to the outstanding horn solos which recall those achingly beautiful late-era Chet Baker performances, the keyboards have a strong foundation in jazz. We thought of Mal Waldron’s European years and in the electric keyboard passages of Ramsey Lewis’ soulful early recordings on the instrument. The whole album is subtly supported by a stellar performance on the drums, which never intrude but often add to the narrative. While Cameron Kinghorn is undeniably the star of the show, the musicianship on this album will knock you out.

Nooky Jones is performing tonight and tomorrow night at the Icehouse. Details on their website here.

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