By Joel Russ
I put my headphones in, expecting the next 34 minutes and 26 seconds to be an exercise in endurance. I’m just not typically a folk music kind of guy. I know, I live in Provo. Can I even say that? But Columbia Jones has come quite close to changing my mind about the genre, and has certainly found a new fan in me.
A scrappy, won’t-quit, all-around musician, he’s spent recent years fighting to make it in a cutthroat industry, working tirelessly to improve his craft. His latest record certainly reflects that fight, with a definitive mastery of performance that you won’t find among many more widely recognized artists. His voice is gritty yet pure, full of swagger and strength. He soars and sobs, shouts with pain and sighs out the nostalgia we all find ourselves wrestling with late at night. His grit is found, too, in his musicianship: he uses a hard, fast attack on his guitar, with blues riffs filling in the gaps between the vocal.
Jones wrote every song and played every instrument on i’m fine. He recorded, produced and mixed the album himself, a refreshing sound in a day when most artists have entire teams devoted to pumping out generic plastic. Raw and real, he speaks to those with career anxiety (everybody?). He releases the anger and pain that comes with social rejection, but then in the same breath tells us to keep our heads high. His music paints silver linings with a “touch of grey” (for all you deadheads). To me, this work feels like the drive and groove of Carly Simon with a Jim Croce-esque voice.
My favorite two songs were tracks one and four, titled “Walk” and “Run” respectively. The first shows a face of strength with a bluesy, guitar-driven groove. The second has a vulnerable, sparse acoustic mix, where you can appreciate the full beauty of Jones’ voice. It culminates in a heart-wrenching high note that seems to cry out all the anxieties Jones has ever faced.
In the words of Columbia Jones himself:
“I wrote ‘Run’ after the busiest year of my life as a musician. I played over 100 shows in 12 states and felt pretty accomplished. But when I wrapped up my books for the year, I hadn’t actually made a lot of money. It felt like I had done so much work and was still hopelessly distant from what I was trying to accomplish, and I just felt like running away from it all. In the end though, I love what I do and instead of running away, I ran back into it all.”
What set this album back for me were instances of vocal distortion. I know it’s a taste thing, but for me personally, when I love a voice I want more of it. Putting foreign effects and distortion over a good vocalist is like waving Raising Cane’s in front of my face and not offering any. It’s right there, the smell so strong I can almost taste it.
My advice to Mr. Jones? Give us more of your voice.
An exciting, enjoyable listen all the way through, Columbia Jones’ latest record i’m fine is an artistic experience that stands apart, and is definitely worth 34 minutes and 26 seconds of your time. You won’t be disappointed.
Be sure to follow Columbia Jones on Instagram, and check out “Run” below.