UK folk singer and guitarist Wizz Jones is one of the undervalued musicians of the 1960s and 1970s folk scene and it has taken some fifty years for an anthology to finally emerge. Thankfully, Sunbeam have done an excellent job of chronicling his lengthy career and this serves as an excellent taster to his large work. Influenced early on in his career by the innovatory guitar of Davy Graham and Long John Baldry, Jones began to create his own distinctive style that fuses US folk-blues, the English folk tradition and a healthy dose of popular song reinvigorated and re-worked in a folk idiom. The anthology is well-balanced overall with just over half of the songs covering the period 1966-1977, the 1970s being a particularly fruitful period in Wizz’s career, but the last three decades are still well represented and his voice is still very much in fine fettle. In the early part of Jones’ career, the singer-guitarist was soaking up the major new talent around at the time and this included a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Ballad of Hollis Brown’ where the slightly echoed sound quality adds a timeless quality to the recording and yet even here Jones succeeds in imposing his own take on the song. Intricate guitar harmonies were already in evidence and are heard to marvellous effect on the stunning intro to ‘Corinne’s blues’ from 1966, with both the folk-blues and jazz traditions underpinning the sound.
Moving on to the early 1970s, Wizz sounds as though he has been listening to Paul McCartney and or the Beatles in the use of harmonies (and why not when the result was sublime) on the 1973 song ‘Friendship’, which was on an album for indie label Village Thing, facilitated by the support of life-long folk fanatic and devotee, Ian Anderson. It is the Irish folk tradition that is seemingly evoked on ‘When I leave Berlin’ (1975) with the use of guitar and banjo plus vocal duet evoking the progressive folk hues of Planxty. So revered is this song in the folk canon among musicians that no less than Bruce Springsteen opened a 2012 Berlin concert date with it, an illustration of the high esteem in which Jones is held by his fellow musicians. The inspiration for some of Wizz Jones’ songs is fascinating and on ‘Railroad’ boy’ (1975) he manages to write about life in London town and give it all the feel of downtown Mississippi which is testimony to his songwriting skills and sheer imagination. Fast forward a couple of year to 1977 and Wizz recorded a one-off album for a label set up by the bassist and drummer in Steelye Span and here ‘Magical Flight’ is represented with a nod in the use of cello (Sand Spencer) and guitar (Pete Berryman) plus vocals to the dreamy sound of Nick Drake. A tribute to folk blues revival great on ‘Mississippi John’ [Hurt] impresses from 1985 and there is a wonderfully authentic bluegrass feel in the instrumentation with an instantly catchy hook and some lowdown blues vocals laid down by Wizz. Interestingly, this song differs completely from the recent homage by Big Daddy Wilson.
Loving attention to detail in the homely and personalised inner sleeve notes written by Wizz with individual song details and photos of the musician throughout his career, plus full information on musicians present. It is a paradox that while Cat Stevens picked up plaudits (and rightly so) for his early 1970s work on Island, Wizz Jones languished in obscurity for all save the few folk cognoscenti at the time. All the more reason to sample this excellent overview of Wizz Jones’ career. This should lead to a wider re-examination of his career with the re-issue of some of the original albums. Thus far, only the terrific 2011 re-issue of ‘Right Now’ (Speaking Corner) has seen the light of day. That is an oversight that other independent labels would do well to set right.