Durand Jones
Photo: Dead Oceans

Durand Jones’ Solo Debut Is Powerful and Personal

Braiding stirring songwriting prowess and beautiful vocals, Durand Jones has created one of the most assured and brightest debut albums in quite some time.

Wait Til I Get Over
Durand Jones
Dead Oceans
5 May 2023

Stepping away from his band, Durand Jones & The Indications, Durand Jones has proven his star power and charisma on his solo debut album, Wait Til I Get Over. The Louisiana native has been making music with his bandmates for over a decade, meeting in the early 2010s in Indiana, paying their dues, and assembling material for their 2016 debut, Durand Jones & The Indications. They followed up with two more studio releases and a live album, their latest being 2021’s Private Space. That record was an homage to 1970s-era smooth R&B and disco-flecked disco. For his solo work, Jones looks to classic soul and R&B, but it steps away from dance-floor material for music is a celebration of rootsy soul, gospel, rock, and jazz.

It’s a fabulous record that recalls masterful works by Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Bill Withers. Braiding stirring songwriting prowess, sparkling production, and beautiful vocals, Jones has created one of the most assured and brightest debut albums in quite some time. Though the record has hallmarks of throwback soul music, it cannot help but be concerned with topical social issues. There’s a joy to much of Wait Til I Get Over, but Jones also eulogizes Sandra Bland, George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, and Danny Ray Thomas, reflecting the angst of cultural disquiet.  

On the second track, Jones gives a brief history of his hometown of Hillaryville, Louisiana. Over a moody piano and a mournful string, Jones teaches his listeners about the founding of Hillaryville, pointing out that the area was given as a form of reparations to eight enslaved people. There’s lovely poetry to the way Jones geographically places Hillaryville, saying, “If you follow the Mississippi River as she swivels and turns tightly / Unable to move freely because of the  levy, you’ll find Hillaryville.”

The town was named after Hillary Rice, “a preacher and politician, shortly after Emancipation. Hillary was an ex-slave of John Burnside, who was brought to Louisiana from Virginia with a group of 116 Negroes. Some of the early settlers of Hillaryville were Albert Brady, Daniel Cutno, Daniel Perkins, Robert Whiteside, Abraham Pack, and Beverly Carter. They left a large number of descendants who worked in the sugar industries of the area.” (Our Roots Run Deep: A History of the River Road African American Museum by Thomas J. Durant)

Jones alludes to the history of the sugar industry of Hillaryville, saying, “Most visitors are still greeted by the tall, sprite green, green sugar cane basking in the presence of the sun.” It’s a history both painful and resilient, yet he describes the place by quoting his grandmother, who summed up her feeling of Hillaryville by remarking: “The place you’d most want to live.”

This joy and optimism, tempered by a complicated history and present, makes Wait Til I Get Over so compelling and rich. The love songs reflect a bliss that is hard-earned. On the album’s first single, “That Feeling”, Jones writes of his first experience with queer love. The song is a stirring, soulful tune that captures both the thrill as well as the melancholy of first love. It’s a complex and emotionally messy experience that touches on the joy of queer love and its accompanying angst. 

That complexity makes the touching “Letter to My 17-Year-Old Self” such a triumph. There’s a lyrical frankness in how Jones expresses his equivocation, singing, “I tried so hard to make it / The right way… I couldn’t fake it / Can you feel me? / I’m trying to understand this thing / Oh, this thing called life.” As if to reflect the push-and-pull, the extravagant production stops and starts before unfurling into an epic jazz suite and eventually settling back into a funky soul number. Ever hopeful, he ends the song with the reassuring, “We’re gonna get it right next time.”

What is so striking about Wait Til I Get Over is how Jones wows his audiences with just how creative his talent is. He couldn’t have picked a better opener for the album than the stately “Gerri Marie”. It’s a soulful piano ballad that sounds almost like baroque pop. Like the other heart-bruised ballads on the album, “Gerri Marie” tells another tale of heartbreak and regret. I can’t remember a lyric as devastating as “wondering why I’d leave / Old New Orleans / The place that’s made of dreams / I’d be laying next to Ms. Mari.”

Wait Til I Get Over‘s centerpiece is the inspirational “Someday We’ll Be Free,” a rousing civil rights anthem inspired by Marvin Gaye’s epic, “What’s Going On”, the song is humane, empathetic, and defiant. Joining Jones is rapper Skypp, who provides a blistering rap solo that punctuates that pretty, shimmering soul ballad. On “Someday We’ll Be Free”, Jones takes on the guise of a wise prophet; however, the song isn’t laden with bromides and empty platitudes. Despite his optimism and hope, he acknowledges that “things are moving fast” but advises to “hold on tight, and you will last”. The juxtaposition of the sweet soulful crooning of Jones and the confrontational lyrics of Skypp’s solo (he pays tribute to Black victims of police brutality, he conjures up dark images of “innocent tenants in the morgue” and alludes to having his legs being tugged as he dangles from a ledge) makes for a powerful and breathtaking moment on the record.

A musical autobiography or memoir is the best way to describe Wait Til I Get Over. These are deeply personal songs that chart the different kinds of emotions he’s working through, whether it’s to do with the affairs of the heart or the turmoil of the outside world; it’s also a wildly ambitious record that takes its musical cutes from Black American popular music. The sum of all these great parts makes for a thrilling listen. 

RATING 9 / 10