Willie Jones - Fire In My Soul (2014)

Willie Jones
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When I saw the EPK promoting Willie Jones album Fire In My Soul announce that this was his debut release as a solo artist, I assumed that I would be reviewing something from the X Factor contestant. Then I saw that this Willie Jones was born in 1936. X Factor contestant Willie Jones didn’t look like he was in his late 70s, so I knew Fire In My Soul was coming from a different Willie Jones. Still, a debut solo album from a 78-year old made it clear that learning this guy’s history would be a big part of preparing for and writing this review. Willie Cornelius Jones is a music industry veteran and legendary Detroit vocalist for a quintet that came to be known as the Royal Jokers.
 
 
The Royal Jokers operated under a variety of names and lineups from the 1940s through the 1990s, though as a legacy act during those latter years. Jones joined the group in the mid 1950s.
When I saw the EPK promoting Willie Jones album Fire In My Soul announce that this was his debut release as a solo artist, I assumed that I would be reviewing something from the X Factor contestant. Then I saw that this Willie Jones was born in 1936. X Factor contestant Willie Jones didn’t look like he was in his late 70s, so I knew Fire In My Soul was coming from a different Willie Jones. Still, a debut solo album from a 78-year old made it clear that learning this guy’s history would be a big part of preparing for and writing this review. Willie Cornelius Jones is a music industry veteran and legendary Detroit vocalist for a quintet that came to be known as the Royal Jokers.
 
 
The Royal Jokers operated under a variety of names and lineups from the 1940s through the 1990s, though as a legacy act during those latter years. Jones joined the group in the mid 1950s. The group’s other members had known Jones for years. However, they didn’t know he could sing; but his ability to sound like Clyde McPhatter made Jones a desirable get. Jones was a part of the group when the Royal Jokers released songs such as “Tickle Me Baby,” a rollicking R&B tune about a guy who laughs uncontrollably whenever his lady begins to fuss. Other Royal Joker tunes include “Stay Here,” a song Jones co-wrote, and the 1966 song “Love Game (From A to Z),' which was Jones' last recording with the group. A thriving collectors market exists for Royal Joker music. I saw a posting on a website in noting that somebody paid $236 for a Royal Joker 45.
 
Jones embarked on a solo career and continued performing around Detroit. He worked with other soul legends such as Bettye LaVette and Steve Cropper, who both appear on Fire In My Soul. The 13 tracks on Fire In My Soul have a Memphis southern soul sound, which is a logical transition from the northern doo-wop influenced stuff Jones performed with the Royal Jokers. And Jones' seasoned tenor is right at home in a blues infused genre that places a heavy emphasis on storytelling, clever lyricism as well as standing firmly in the intersection between the sacred and the secular.
 
 
The album gets off to an energetic start with “The Road From Rags to Riches,” a track that features Stax-influenced guitar licks and Jones telling a story of lady who gambles on her man’s love and patience, but comes up snake eyes. “Your Lies” is a blues rock number that finds Jones reading someone who has a very loose relationship with the truth. “If your lies were a train/I’d be getting out of town/If your lies were a gun/I’d be six feet under ground/When I look in your eyes/You think I can’t see through your lies.”
 
 
“Don’t Mean A Damn” is a fusion of blues and country that dives head long into taboo territory. This one finds Jones telling the story of being the older man who plans to stick with the relationship with a woman despite the resentment of her children.
 
What Jones has lost in terms of vocal range, he maintains in his ability to convey a story, and his vocals are more than adequate. He is a performer who continues working and entertaining audiences, and with Fire In My Soul, Jones proves to be a singer who has a lot to say and who will continue to speak through his music for as long as his body will allow. It may have taken about a half century longer than expected to get here, but soul music fans will be glad to hear the debut from Willie Jones. Recommended.
 
By Howard Dukes
 
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