By Steven Reid (Sea Of Tranquility)
Best known as the guitarist and chief songwriter for Scottish AOR outfit Strangeways, Ian James Stewart has also released a number of solo albums. Junk DNA is his latest and one which the man himself describes as an album he's always wanted to make. It is easy to hear why, with this album having a really personal and emotional feel through a few variations of styles and approaches which still work tremendously well together.
The album's opening title track gives the vibe of easy going blues, a little like latter day ZZ Top ambling into Stewart's band, Strangeways, although there's an almost tribal feel to the drums and atmospheric vocal delivery. Unusually for a song running at four and a half minutes, this opener is one of the shortest tracks on J-DNA, allowing the likes of "Phosphorus" or "One More Time" to grow and ease their way across surprisingly laid back themes. In fact the former of the two could almost be Hogarth led Marillion at their most restrained, showing huge patience in holding off from introducing a sharper guitar line. The latter having a flavour of modern day Mark Knopfler around it, with gently blues-folk themes being squeezed into a soft rock shape. It is an approach felt even more strongly elsewhere and one which is carried through well. It's back to heavy, slow blues for "Big White Monkey", which has an unusual, memorable chorus line, hitting like a looser Joe Bonamassa, while "So Far So Good" really reins the energy in, becoming a swaying lighter waver in the process. Singer Robert Wyatt shows up for the loungy jazz of "When U Love Somebody", offering his tuneful Ray Davies like vocals and helping to serve up a track which again, quite intentionally changes tack from its album mates.
As expected Stewart's guitar playing is sublime, keeping things light, while finding enough weight to push home some insistent solos and riffs, but for the large part this is introspective fare delivered with a keen ear for melody. In fact it's all very "adult", with the hooks being coated in velvet and the mood one of gentle persuasion, rather than full force demands.
If there was a complaint, it is that some of the songs do possibly take a minute or two too long to make their mark, and some others also feel like a minute or two off their tail ends wouldn't hurt either. However in many ways doing either of these things might actually reduce the overall impact of this collection, negating the very atmosphere they build up.
Junk DNA is a classy, well constructed set of songs, that some doubtless will find a little too polite. Others however will simply delight in the smooth melodies created. In the end it is too good to ignore, if possibly too foot off the peddle to implore you back for quick revisits.
1. Junk DNA
3. Big White Monkey
4. One More Time
5. Path Of Lightning
6. Charlie Parker
7. So Far So Good
8. No Water
9. Heaven Knows
10. Know Is Nothing
11. If This Is Life
12. When U Love Somebody (bonus track)
13. Slow Burn Dance (bonus track)
Added: December 4th 2013
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Score: 4.5 / 5