Music

John Renbourn and Wizz Jones: Joint Control

A series of low-key, intimate duets mark the first recorded pairing of guitarists John Renbourn and Wizz Jones as well as, sadly, the last recordings made by Renbourn.


John Renbourn and Wizz Jones

Joint Control

US Release: Import
UK Release: 2016-09-09
Label: Riverboat
Amazon
iTunes

Guitarist Wizz Jones is, without question, one of the most influential figures of acoustic folk guitar in Britain. Influencing everyone from Bert Jansch and Richard Thompson to John Martyn and John Renbourn, Jones’s decidedly American approach to folk and blues guitar helped break the music on the British folk scene, bringing to light some prominent early blues figures (Son House, Blind Blake, Big Bill Broonzy, etc.) He remains largely overshadowed by those he inspired, at least in America. Joint Control won’t do anything to change this status. Rather it serves more as a reminder of his contributions, as well as the affinity shared between himself and Renbourn, with whom he collaborated on this album.

A low-key, intimate collection of folk tunes captured live and in the studio, this collaborative effort surprisingly marks the first time the two have appeared together on record despite a half-century shared history of live performances together and shared acquaintances. Sadly, it would also be the last as these recordings were made in the months immediately before Renbourn’s death in 2015. Despite this knowledge, you’d never guess either performer was nearing death’s door given the fleet-fingered amiability with which they play.

With Jones taking the vocal lead on the lion’s share, Renbourn serves as the de facto lead player, his lines intertwining with Jones’s workman-like picking and strumming. Both play off each other quite well, making the bulk of Joint Control a joy to listen to. Mixed fairly equally between live and studio recordings, the intimacy, shared between the two performers blurs the line between those captured in front of an audience and alone in the studio. The laidback energy featured in both settings shows Jones and Renbourn to be taking it all in and enjoying the musical camaraderie regardless of the response garnered.

Both “Getting There” and “Glory of Love” use a vaguely blues-esque figure to allow Jones ample room to show off the power still present in his voice, while Renbourn lays down several deft solo lines that show him to have been an active listener and sympathetic soloist. Their cover of the late Bert Jansch’s “Strolling Down the Highway” serves as a eulogy of sorts for Renbourn’s former Pentangle bandmate and six-string sparring partner. There’s little deviation from the original version structurally, but Renbourn throws in a handful of jazz chords and licks for good measure, showing the sophistication of the seemingly straightforward progression.

More than anything, Joint Control plays as two old friends getting together one last time to run through a handful of tunes from the heyday of British folk. The amiability with which Jones encourages Renbourn to take a solo each time is heartbreaking in hindsight, knowing that these would be some of Renbourn’s last recorded performances. Regardless, it’s a thrill to hear these two together and playing the music they clearly love. There’s nothing revelatory or jaw-dropping here, but these recordings still serve as a masterclass of folk guitar given by two of the best in the business.

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