Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
In this edition of the Independent Spotlight, we’re going to be taking a deep look at indie rock artist Jonas Martin and his new full length record, ‘Chokecherry Jam.’ The album is an eclectic mix of wry storytelling, tight production, and excellent performances. The cigarette-toting Dallas-based songwriter pulls influence from the sarcastic elements of music the likes of Randy Newman or Harry Nilsson. The output, though, is more akin to something more like modern indie rock.
The first impression you may get from ‘Chokecherry Jam’ is that it is certainly laid back. The superb ‘Autumn Love’ dabbles with ‘la, dee, da’s,’ and soulful deliveries. In fact, all of the power of the album can be traced back to Martin’s vocal performances. They’re absolutely infectious and tight band he surrounds himself with accents him marvelously.
Despite the lighthearted atmosphere of songs like ‘Autumn Love,’ there is certainly something darker and grittier at play as well. ‘Wake Up’ is the first real instance of this. It's a deep, foreboding garage rocker tinged with gospel influence. The lead guitar tears through your speakers and descends into sonic madness. Martin compares himself to the Black Keys - I get that comparison and lean into agreeance on it.
The production of this record has a lot going on. Stellar lead vocals, tight percussion, and snarling electric guitar aren’t the only stand-outs. There’s some wonderful back up vocals scattered throughout each track, a searing organ, and at some point, I even heard a string section and a saxophone. Often, independent musicians get a bit bogged down in semantics when their productions get this complex. Not Jonas Martin, though, no sir. The entire mix is professional and solid as could be. (Though, upon looking at the liner notes, that is entirely to be expected when your producer has produced for the likes of Beck and the Arctic Monkeys.)
Another area that ‘Chokecherry Jam’ succeeds is in the curated nature of the track listing. At ten tracks, it’s the perfect length. More importantly, though, the tracks are different enough that the record flows from one track to the next with ease. That’s an important part of a record that many critics don’t take into consideration: the whole in comparison to its fragmented parts. ‘Chokecherry Jam’ is much better a full movement than individual singles or tracks. The acoustic nature of ‘Jodie Lever’ is beautifully contrasted with the garage-blues nature of ‘Fishy Man,’ the following track.
‘Apple Peeling’ may be one of the ultimate highlights of the record. What a magnificently well done track. Martin honed some of his songwriting abilities when he was in a Beatles tribute band. That Lennon/McCartney influence is actually apparent here. The moody, atmospheric ‘No Wonder’ follows in an elegant fashion. The cataclysmic production style of this track in particular is intriguing to me: it feels dramatic, dire, and epic in every way. I absolutely love it.
The album closes out with ‘Where Did It Go?’ It’s a raunchy blues track with some neat contemporary influence. Again, it feels a whole lot like something the Black Keys would put out. There’s a wall of sound of sorts emanating from this record; no track is simple and each time you listen you get a slightly different impression of the song than from the previous listen.
‘Chokecherry Jam’ is one of the coolest independent records of 2015 thus far. It’s masterfully performed, produced, mixed, and written. It’s a treat to listen to and is a very satisfying full experience. If you’re in the Dallas area, I would highly recommend checking Jonas Martin’s live performance schedule. If you’re not, get on over to his website, which is listed below. Get this record. You can even get it on vinyl. (Do that; I bet this record is sweet on an analog system.)