Jared James Nichols’ new album, “Black Magic,” shows the blues rock prodigy has grown up

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Blues rock guitarist Jared James Nichols has a new album slated for release Oct. 27. Nichols’ relative youth and the pronouncement that he was a prodigy on the strength of early performances and his debut album prompts comparisons to the likes of Kenny Wayne Shepherd. However, a listen to Nichols’ songs reveals that while he may have outgrown the label of “prodigy,” he remains an original with a predictably bright future.

About Jared James Nichols

The singer and guitarist is from East Troy, Wisconsin, but is now based out of Los Angeles, California. His catalog includes the albums “Old Glory & The Wild Revival,” “Jared James Nichols Live at the Viper Room” and the forthcoming “Black Magic.”

Among the accolades Nichols has collected are the 2010 Jerry Horton guitar context winner, the 2011 Les Paul Tribute Contest, and others from the Musicians Institute.

In addition to Nichols’ on guitar and singing, his band is completed by Erik Sandin on bass, and Dennis Holm on drums.

Nichols tells a great deal of his story on his social media site. Apparently, receiving his first electric guitar at 14 was a life-changing event. Within two weeks of getting the instrument, Nichols was on the stage playing with seasoned musicians in Chicago.

Nichols remarks on the credibility of the men he played with: “None of these guys were music nerds. They were true blues guys playing what they felt. That power and reality struck a chord in me,” he states.

A note about blues rock

When blues rock is done effectively, it can be an engaging genre for fans of both, or either genre. Done incorrectly, it leans too heavily on awkward interpretations of the blues, or inserts rock-style solos that seem infinite in length.

Nichols has gained momentum probably because he has managed to be true to both forms. His songs are packed tightly and played ferociously. Fans appreciate his approach.

To appreciate what Nichols has done on “Black Magic,” listeners should hear “Old Glory & the Wild Revival.” There is a tremendous amount of growth that can be heard between the two recordings. Not that “Old Glory” was bad, but to Nichols’ credit, “Black Magic” is even better.

The sound of “Black Magic”

“Last Chance”

Given the title, I had no idea what to expect. I braced against anything slow and dramatic, or containing any of the hallmarks that demonstrated a lack of energy or creativity. I needn’t have worried.

“Last Chance” abounds with speed, and big, heavy riffs that never lose momentum. It doesn’t grow tedious, either. The drumming matches Nichols’ velocity and intensity. This song is like an action movie that throttles audiences from the beginning, and doesn’t let up until it has arrived at its logical conclusion.

“Crazy”

“Crazy” is a bit slower paced than “Last Chance,” but it is by no means slow. Classic rock elements throughout combine with a particularly bluesy chorus. The theme is similar to Nichols’ other themes, which seem to be love and desire. With the rock elements here, moderate headbanging could be induced.

The songwriting sounds clearer on “Black Magic” than on previous Nichols’ works. The end rhymes match better and that seemingly small touch gives Nichols’ work an extra coat of professionalism.

While much has been made of Nichols’ guitar-playing, his voice should be noted as well. That is another over-looked feature of proper (if that is even the correct word) blues rock–the voice. Far too many singers think that blues equals screaming. While the occasional scream makes its way into blues songs, there should be a sense of style while the singer emotes.

Nichols has an appropriate voice for the genre. Just when I thought I had a feel for his range, I watched a video of Nichols doing a cover of “Stranglehold.” His deeper voice added something special to the entire performance.

Nichols’ work manages to keep alive two musical traditions–blues and hard rock. Prodigy or not, Nichols has all the elements that make good blues rock exactly that: A sense of the blues, a strong voice, blazing riffs, and the propensity to blow audiences away.

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