When no less a garage rock authority than Little Steven (aka Steven Van Zandt) plays three songs off a band’s debut album on his nationally-syndicated radio show—and notes that the band meets the definition for Perfect Contemporary Garage Band (“A bunch of white guy trying to play black rhythm and blues and failing miserably. Thank God!”)—that band is doing something right and fans of soulful R&B/garage should take notice. The band in question—British quartet Jarvis Humby—is definitely doing something right on its fantastic, booty-shaking debut, Assume the Position… It’s Jarvis Humby.
Jarvis Humby—lead singer/rhythm guitarist Andy Smith, bassist Dave Heart, lead guitarist Mick Hepple, and drummer Rix Jordan (the latter two also handle Farfisa, Hammond, and Wurlitzer organ duties)—wears its influences on its sleeve… album sleeve, that is. From the front cover layout proudly boasting “4 Stereo” sound and picture of early Who and Beatles paraphernalia (among others), to the back cover with their label’s logo—“Hard Soul” written in typewriter font—these guys deliver what they promise: a gritty ‘60s Britrock sound that could easily be described as “hard soul”.
The band anchors its songs with swirling Hammonds, Farfisas, and Smith’s garage-friendly, raspy voice. Opener “We Say ‘Yeah!’” is the prototypical JH tune, implementing the above weapons to great freewheeling affect; the tune wouldn’t sound out of place on an album released in 1965. (For folks who only know American Garage: These guys, for all intents and purposes, are the British 45s. And that’s a good thing.)
On other tracks, JH takes equal relish in exploring the ‘60s music scene. A psychedelic sitar colors “These Eyes” (1967 or so); the jazzy “99 Steps to the Sun” could be a long-lost Santana track (1969 in action). Meanwhile, the middle of the album proves the band belongs on Hard Soul. The strutting “Oh Baby (I Believe I’m Losing You)” (written by ‘60s jazzman Billy Hawks) oozes genuine soul; “Black Cat” could be “Soul Man Redux”. Their instrumentals kick ass, too: “Badger” is a winning slice of surf rock, while “The 4th Man” shoulda been a ‘60s spy movie theme song; I had to check the liner notes to make sure it wasn’t a cover. It’s not.
And if these guys didn’t boast enough cool influences already, two bonus tracks show JH love comic books and sci-fi as well. “Man With the X-Ray Eyes (Silver Surfer)” is self-explanatory—as well as the album’s best song (Little Steven once named it “Coolest Song In the World This Week”); meanwhile, the spooky, horror-movie-esque “Majestic 12” recounts a black ops group that covers up alien landings on Earth. Be sure to hunt down the US release of Assume the Position, as the bonus tracks appear only on that version.
Folks not hip to Jarvis Humby’s approach may call the band derivative, but I prefer the less pejorative term “retro”. These four lads know garage rock through and through; they’re not just cherry-picking motifs that sound cool. On Assume the Position, they have internalized the ethos, heart and soul of a ‘60 garage band. With too many poseur garage bands littering the music scene, it’s a treat to hear the real deal, baby.