Jacob Banks - The Monologue (2013)

Jacob Banks
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There is nothing 21-years old about Jacob Banks’ voice. His baritone is molasses, smooth, thick, dark and inescapable. Like his UK brethren of even more oceanic and ancient depths, Kwabs, the Birmingham native is an unsigned wonder with a debut EP boasting a hit UK single, ”Worthy,” that’s already making noise and garnering Banks a bounty of unexpected opportunities. That he’d only picked up a guitar and started singing 12 months before recording The Monologue is just depressing, considering how quickly he leap frogged over those 10,000 Gladwell hours toward mastery. What is not depressing is the gentle and transparent talent it took to craft these eight minimalist stories of song.

There is nothing 21-years old about Jacob Banks’ voice. His baritone is molasses, smooth, thick, dark and inescapable. Like his UK brethren of even more oceanic and ancient depths, Kwabs, the Birmingham native is an unsigned wonder with a debut EP boasting a hit UK single, ”Worthy,” that’s already making noise and garnering Banks a bounty of unexpected opportunities. That he’d only picked up a guitar and started singing 12 months before recording The Monologue is just depressing, considering how quickly he leap frogged over those 10,000 Gladwell hours toward mastery. What is not depressing is the gentle and transparent talent it took to craft these eight minimalist stories of song.

Nailing down what genre defines Banks is nearly impossible. Unlike most BAM music artists who blend various genres in the same song, Banks sings each genre one at a time. There are few musical collages here. And yet at times it feels that all of the African Diaspora is represented in Banks voice and material. Giving a nod to the contemporary lean toward soul pop is the promissory “Homecoming” with its “I’ll be coming back home soon” hauntings. Taking a page from blaxploitation scores and reggae storytelling, “Yolo” brings some much-needed musical dynamism to a project that can be too tonally even given a reliance on acoustic music and blues chords. One of the few other cuts with a prominent bassline, “Rainy Day,” in its feel and flourishes, is reminiscent of the ‘90s hip hop soul experiments that birthed Arrested Development with a smidge of Hootie & The Blowfish thrown in like Lawry’s. The Chicago Blues of “Hostage” and “Kids On The Corner” could have been right at home next to KoKo Taylor and Syl Johnson, if not for the reggae phrasing that Banks rightly weaves into each emotional portrait of barely suppressed rage. If there is a BAM hybrid tune present, it’s “Worthy,” the single and the most musically and compositionally interesting of the set, boasting electrosoul with a rock and techno edge and reggae rocker vocals ala Seal.

Where the limitations and the strengths of Banks’ young gift becomes apparent are in the growling neo-blues torch songs. The trio of piano ballads “Hostage,” “Dear Simone” and “Something Beautiful” are searing in their stripped down sincerity, but with the exception of “Hostage,” one note in their musicality and arrangement. Only Banks raw talent and undeniable humility in these crying room moments saves them from being routine bar blues material. Still, there is lyrical promise here.

There are supposedly three album of material already written for Banks’ next project, so the minor production and compositional deficiencies of “The Monologue” are likely already behind the developing singer/songwriter. With “Worthy” earning him an opening touring slot with Emelie Sandi and a BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge performance, a first for an unsigned artist, Banks is already on his way. Looking like the grandchild of John Coltrane, it wouldn’t surprise if Banks had already been here before. Certainly, at his best, Jacob Banks music already bears the makings of timelessness. Recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson

 

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