(Downtown Music: 2010)
Keziah Jones’s newest album, Nigerian Wood, starts off with a brief audio clip of a British professor presenting his research on African music. “For our next song, we go right across the territory,” the stuffy voice explains. “The first one is a dance song with a moral.” Besides the subtle jab at colonial anthropology, this short sound byte represents everything Jones’s music is not. Despite its conspicuous title, Jones’s newest album Nigerian Wood does not speak for the entire West African country. Instead, it’s world music that uses the cosmopolitan styles of polyrhythmic soul, jazz, blues, and Afrobeat to give Jones’s birthplace a universal chic.
At the core, Keziah Jones is a singer-songwriter. His strength lies in his silky voice and funky slap-box guitar technique (picture a Curtis Mayfield and Fela Kuti love child). When he sticks to this musical arsenal, the results are celestial. Take “Unintended Consequences” for instance, sung over a laid-back acoustic melody and spare drums or “Beautifulblackbutterfly” on which Jones’s smooth vocals decorate an even smoother riff. It’s hard to ignore the tingle factor on these songs. When Jones goes electric instead of acoustic, however, (see “African Android”), the distortion makes the music seem less genuine. The songs that work on Nigerian Wood are the same songs Jones can perform on stage unplugged.
By no means a straight out red light LP, Nigerian Wood does sneaks in heavier subject matter when appropriate. On “1973 (Jokers Reparations)”, Jones sings, “In 1973, the naira was introduced to help the economy/ But the value’s kinda weak one naira spun six dollars, official calculation,” providing his perspective on Nigerian economy. Jones is not a hammerhead for African politics, but maintains a pro-Nigerian sentiment without saturating the music. A song like “Lagos vs. New York” praises Nigeria’s most popular city, without compromising its grooviness.
Keziah Jones is a franchise musician who has been crafting substantial albums since the early 90’s. On Nigerian Wood, Jones is simply showing what good reputations are made of. Sprinkle that with some African pride and Nigeria is on the map beaming.