Due out July 1, 2019 is “After Hours” by Blind Lemon Pledge. The album is subtitled “New pages in the American songbook,” and that is exactly how it sounds. With catchy, bluesy hooks, lyrics that are part pathos, and all around clever or poignant, depending on the song, “After Hours” sounds as if it contains all the early jazz and blues songs that only the most dedicated contemporary fans have ever heard.
Except: “After Hours” is made of new material. The way the songs are told, the swinging bravado, the melancholy of the blues, all paint the tracks with a yesteryear feel that is nothing short of authentic. On “After Hours,” Blind Lemon Pledge (aka James Byfield) has written all the songs, contributed piano and vocal work and created the arrangements. Although the songs are new, they provide a history lesson in sound and approach to jazz. There are 13 tracks on the recording. “If Beale Street Was a Woman” and “Buddy Bolden’s Song” stand out.
About Blind Lemon Pledge/James Byfield
Before “After Hours,” Byfield had recorded a total of seven albums. His previous work was in the genre of roots or Americana. Even though the musician has garnered critical praise and airplay internationally, it seems a bit of a risk to take on jazz in the way he has here.
To bring “After Hours” to life, Byfield has teamed with some of the best jazz musicians, including a vocalist, from the San Francisco Bay area. Together, they have created, or re-created, music similar to what would have been heard in Harlem nightclubs in the 1930s and 1940s.
On “After Hours,” Byfield is joined by vocalist Marisa Malvino, pianist Ben Flint, bassist Peter Grenell and drummer Joe Kelner.
Before he became a fulltime musician, Byfield had a substantial career as a media designer and producer. He was considered a pioneering designer in computer graphics and worked in television, radio and print. Further, Byfield won awards for his work.
However, by 2008, music called and Byfield answered. Performing under the name Blind Lemon Pledge, he saw success with albums such as “Pledge Drive,” “Backwoods Glance” and “Evangeline.” His albums have represented genres such as blues, folk music, Americana, vintage jazz, Cajun and rock. His songs have placed in the Top Ten of Cashbox, Roots Music Report and other charts.
The sound of “After Hours” by Blind Lemon Pledge
His humorous moniker might be something audiences simply have to get used to. The songs here are serious jazz. They sway with bluesy rhythms and invoke the mood of the places that they might been played in one of New York City’s most historic neighborhoods. “Ketchup Spaghetti” should not be missed for its true-to-life discussion about the gastronomic side of being down on one’s luck. But also appealing for their poetry as well as their sounding as if they have been ripped from vintage records are “If Beale Street Was a Woman” and “Buddy Bolden’s Song.” The two aforementioned songs shine with authenticity.
“If Beale Street Was a Woman” opens with a classic, bluesy piano riff that starts and stops to complement the lyrics, which includes the lines: “If Beale Street was a woman/I’d take her for my bride…” and which immediately set the tone. The song is perfect for a narrator who claims to have been married to the blues. Malvino’s rich voice moves up in register in surprising, agile moves. The high piano notes sound like ragtime chords sped up, and the ringing notes at the ends of some phrases is perfect and worth hearing again and again. .
“Buddy Bolden’s Song” sounds like it has been written by someone who was alive to hear the musician credited with inventing ragtime. There is a hint of “St. James Infirmary Blues,” right down to the description of “six white horses and a hearse of gold/to bear his body home,” and a list of people who needed to be told that “Buddy done blowed his last.” Between the lyrics and the instrumentation, the effect is haunting.
“After Hours” makes vintage jazz new again. For veteran jazz fans, the recording is likely to reaffirm their knowledge of the genre. For newer fans, “After Hours” is likely to spark interest in the sound of jazz when the genre was new, or relatively so.