COVENTRY JONES – Love Ashbury
In case you weren’t convinced that Coventry Jones is an unapologetic hippie by the longhaired floppy-hat picture of him on the cover, or by the American flag and peace- sign artwork on the CD itself, the title should be a dead giveaway. Or is that Dead giveaway? A play on the Grateful Dead’s original San Francisco stomping ground, the Haight Ashbury neighborhood, the title also reveals Jones’s endlessly sunny, love-not-hate disposition. In the course of the dozen songs on Love Ashbury he actually proves himself to be more John Denver than Jerry Garcia. “Elissa,” an ode to a tall ship from Texas, owes a fair debt to Denver’s “Calypso,” itself a salute to Jacques Cousteau’s boat, while “Rainbow” possesses the same hopeful optimism as “Sunshine on My Shoulder.” The latter is part of three-song unplugged acoustic set (guitar and harmonica) recorded live on Earth Day (of course) that closes the disc. Though the Mississippi John Hurt-channeling closing track “Delta Queen” has more bluesy grit than anything prior.
In fact, the entire CD is sequenced this way, grouping songs together by the musicians that played on them, and this turns out to be a miscalculation. Tracks four through seven are by far the most rockin’ of the group, but also feel the most forced as Jones reaches too far. “Cosmic Truths of Lenny Bruce” makes the mistake of choosing a subject Bob Dylan had already immortalized, and falling short. I was already weary of listening to songs about famous dead people before the first tacky lyric “I dreamed I woke up in Electric Ladyland” of the next track. “Planet Jimi (Jimi Hendrix Tribute),” with its completely superfluous parenthetical title, allows electric guitarist Matt Amans to give himself over to the Hendrix riffs he tries to keep in check on the other tracks on which he plays. “Funky Cab Ride to Nowhere” is unfortunately exactly that, nearly three minutes of meandering electric guitar noodling. Only “Soul Must Rain” manages to distinguish itself as more than that.
Although it isn’t necessarily Amans’s fault, the songs without him are definitely the stronger ones. When Jones sticks to the folkier stuff, as on the sweet banjo-and-mandolin- drenched “Brand New Story,” as well as the aforementioned “Elissa” and “Rainbow,” he fares much better. The poppy swagger of the opening title track is engaging, and “All Good Things (9-11 Memorial)” is uplifting pop (though again he’d be better off dropping the unnecessary parenthetical). In general, Jones looks better in Denver’s flannel or even the Dead’s tie-dye than in Jimi’s flamboyant wardrobe.