Dakota Jones – Black Light: Album Review

Timeless, breathless collection of funk, soul, blues and rock from Brooklyn’s Dakota Jones.

Release Date:  27th August 2021

Label: Lord Please Records

Formats: CD, Vinyl, Download

I’ve said it before, and I hope that I’ll have many more opportunities to say it again – I absolutely love it when an album appears from nowhere and, almost literally, takes my breath away.  It’s happened again, today.  Black Light, the debut album from Brooklyn four-piece outfit Dakota Jones is a stunning, breathless, timeless collection of funk, soul, blues and down-and-dirty rock from a supremely accomplished group of musicians.  Packed with solid, funky rhythms, marvellous guitar that takes its cues from Nile Rodgers and Jimi Hendrix and several points in between and, best of all, some of the most commanding, assured, even slightly intimidating vocals that you’ll hear anywhere in the world, Black Light is a truly exceptional album.

To a large extent, Dakota Jones is a vehicle for the extraordinary vocal and songwriting talents of frontperson Tristan Carter-Jones, although the other band members are far from passengers on board that vehicle.  The band’s rhythm section – Scott Kramp on bass and Steve Ross on drums – are as tight and funky as it’s possible to be and former Was(Not Was) guitarist Randy Jacobs lays down some truly amazing stuff, but it’s Tristan’s voice and lyrics that take Black Light into a new dimension.

Tristan describes her songwriting style as “Fierce and unashamedly uncensored,” and her  self-assessment puts some perspective around her lyrical presence on the album: “I’m a black, queer woman expressing myself through love and music.  Some folks still find that to be a transgressive act in and of itself.  I work to fight that idea.  I write a lot about my sexuality and the ways in which I express it.  Songs about sex and love bounce back and forth between songs about heartache, hangovers and self-medication, and the pleasure and pain of truly finding yourself.  I don’t think we get to hear these things from a woman’s mouth as often as we should.”  Well – that’s the lyrical approach explained. As for the vocal delivery, that’s been pretty accurately described as capturing the hell-hath-no-fury power of Chaka Kahn, the wild spontaneity of Janis Joplin and the honey-dripping sensuality of Marvin Gaye – and I think that’s a description that just about nails it!

The album gets off to a blistering start with the first single, I Did It To Myself, a song that sets the scene for the solid funk that permeates much of the album.  Tristan takes no prisoners with her delivery of the lyrics that lament the woes of adjusting to adulthood and which pull no punches with phrases like “Stretch marks from growing pains.”  The in-your-face funk continues with Black Light, the album’s title track and an early highlight – a hot and steamy affair with some outstanding guitar soloing from Randy and wildly flirtatious lyrics that declare: “If you want it, you can have me” and “You’re a black light and I’ve been doing something dirty baby.”  Phew…!!

We Playin’ Bad Games, a dark story of late-night revelry of questionable legality and morality takes us even deeper into funk territory, and there’s more simmering, scorching guitar to enjoy, before Watcha Gonna Do About It moves us onto jazz/funk.  Cascading with words – “I’m screaming bloody murder when I touch the paper to the pen – watcha gonna do about it” – is a typical extract, the song is further elevated by some excellent quasi-Hendrix guitar work.

After all that steamy funk, the piano and strings that introduce Medicine come as something of a surprise.  Tristan confronts her self-medication issues with lyrics like “You know I can’t be honest without my medicine… I used to be brave without my medicine,” as the song evolves into a gritty rocker and then into a thunderous jam.  The selection of acapella prayer, Lord Please as the current single is an interesting, perhaps brave and maybe ultimately rewarding choice.  A slice of gospel from a parallel universe, Lord Please is unlike anything else on the album, but it works marvellously as Tristan pleas “Lord, please keep my head on straight” and advises would-be voyeurs to “Keep your eyes off me.”

In the bluesy Black Magic (That Power), Tristan reflects on a past, failed relationship and, although she plays the part of the victim/looser in the story, it’s fascinating to see how, through the power and command of her voice, she manages to retain her strength and dignity as she informs her former lover: “I can’t stand you; Can’t stand without you.”  The soulful Like That is another highlight; it’s a song that, in other hands, would be a gentle soul ballad, but with Tristan at the helm, ably helped by Kudasian Kai’s awesome backing vocals and yet more soaring guitar, it sends shivers down your spine – and as for that groan that ends the song…….

The pared back Down Slow is another gospel excursion built, this time, around a simple guitar lick and more glorious backing vocals from Kudasian, and the excellent Noise captures and bottles the classic Stax soul sound, right down to the trademark horns and organ.  The lyrics are Tristan’s reaction to the 2016 US election that inflicted Trump on the world and they’re delivered with the appropriate levels of passion. 

And that’s your lot, if you choose the vinyl version of the album.  CD purchases get an extra treat with the hidden bonus track California, a gritty, heavy guitar-driven rocker with lyrics that search for an escape route from leg-buckling tribulations.  It’s a great song that deserves to be heard and the band rock like a cleaned-up version of Crazy Horse.

Black Light is a truly excellent album from a great band, led by a massively talented singer/songwriter.  This is an album that you need to hear.

Watch the official video to I Did iT To Myself – the album’s opening track and its first single – here:

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