Musician-poet-author Harold Whit Williams reviews authentic jukebox honky-tonk from Austin Leonard Jones.
Lord Almighty, you can't take the country out of this boy (not that he himself hasn't tried). New Zealand-born, Texas-bred and California-beckoned Austin Leonard Jones has moseyed his way through all shades of lo-fi music, pop and otherwise, but on his latest album — Dead Calm (Perpetual Doom) — he fully commits to authentic jukebox honky-tonk. The son of Tommy Lee Jones (and a fine actor in his own right), Austin has never let celeb status get in the way of his musical wanderlust and indie spirit.
With woebegone vocals up-front, Flying Burrito Brothers-esque backing, high lonesome pedal steel hovering above, and the occasional bright spots of sonic color (fuzzy baritone licks in "Night Parrots," Marty Robbins border guitar of "Demon Sands"), Jones and producer Jesse Woods have crafted a classic western movie of an album. Taut lyrics sketch out the songwriting protagonist as uncertain leader, puzzled outsider, and, ultimately, a pure artist confronting middle age on his own terms. Captured in old-style tape warmth and with Panavision storytelling setting the mood, Dead Calm is your new favorite summer blockbuster.1
Harold Whit Williams is a prize-winning poet and longtime guitarist for the indie rock band Cotton Mather. He is the recipient of the 2020 FutureCycle Poetry Book Prize, the 2014 Mississippi Review Poetry Prize, and the Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook Prize. With six books of poetry, one short story collection, and multiple Pushcart Prize nominations under his belt, Williams lives in Austin, Texas where he records lo-fi jangle pop music as Daily Worker, all the while cataloging the KUT Collection and Brazilian pop for the University of Texas Libraries.