John Paul Jones and Them Crooked Vultures

I haven’t done a lot of music reviews here on Bass Guitar Rocks, and to be honest – I don’t really listen to much new music. I have given up on commercial radio stations and end up spending most of my time listening to songs that I already know. But once in a while I check out something new, every so often – that something new turns out to be awesome. Awesome would happen to be Them Crooked Vultures.

If I have my facts straight, they released their debut self-titled album in November of 2009 and I didn’t ‘discover’ them until December 2010! This despite the fact that I read a cover story on the band in the pages of Bass Player Magazine early in the year. Even though the band consisted of John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl I just didn’t manage to find the time to go and check them out online.

It’s times like these that I realize how hard it is for those unknown bands to get discovered when I couldn’t be bothered to learn more about a ‘super group’ like Them Crooked Vultures…but I digress.

John Paul Jones (musician) playing bass in The...
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Anyway, I listened to the whole album straight through. Like most things (at least for me), the initial listen didn’t knock me out. Naturally I was paying attention to what JPJ was doing on the bass and it sounded great. However, other stuff started growing on me, odd time signatures, a melody here a rhythm there; next thing I knew there was a song that I really liked and before long that favourite song was succeeded by others that I liked more.

I can’t remember the last time I checked out an album that was this consistent from song to song. Right now my favourite track is called Bandoliers, but Reptiles, Elephants, Scumbag Blues and Caligulove are not far behind it at all. The band has a retro flavour to it with the obvious Led Zeppelin-like feel that JPJ brings to the project, but Josh Homme at times not only sounds like Cream’s Jack Bruce singing Strange Brew (on Scumbag Blues) but also has hints of David Bowie in places. Then there’s Grohl on the drums, who plays very tastefully and yet with an edge at the same time.

So what exactly does The Crooked Vultures bring to the table? Tasty tunes that are both retro and modern at the same time. Not only that, but you can almost sense the mutual respect and love for performing together that these three musicians share; they are definitely not doing this strictly for the money – or else they’re damn good actors!!!

I didn’t know too much about Josh Homme before this recording – I thought he was just a singer for Queens of the Stone Age, but I have a lot of respect for the guitar on this disc – and the fact that he’s singing at the same time!

John Paul Jones 2I love how the songs tend to progress; tunes like Warsaw or the First Breath You Take After You Give Up starts off simply, adds on a fantastic JPJ bassline on the chorus and takes you so far away from home that you think you’re lost – when you turn a corner at the end and land back on that simple heavy riff that kicked the song off at the very beginning! Check out JPJ at about the 1:00 mark in -wicked bassline that is signature John Paul Jones all the way. Then at 3:36 the whole band starts swinging and Grohl starts to gradually speed up the tempo – no quantization here and very cool indeed!

Anyway, as much as I like the album – at the end of the day this is a bass players blog and any bassist is going to want to know if John Paul Jones still ‘has it’. Let me put it this way, before I heard this album JPJ was on my top 10 favourite bassist list; after listening to it I have to say he’s easily on my top 3. The dude at 64 is more ‘bad-ass’ than just anybody on the planet.

The thing I love about JPJ is that he’s also humble as hell; he’s a complete musician (he’s even singing on this album) and a multi-instrumentalist and brings whatever the song requires to the table. There’s no chest-beating with JPJ, he plays finger-style or with a pick depending on what the song or situation calls for – and he just plain rocks pure and simple! After listening to him on this album I’m wondering if I should track down his solo albums…

Check out his technique and bass solo on this live version of Scumbag Blues.

[Note: JPJ takes a tasty bass solo at 2:20.]

I was so intriqued by JPJ’s technique on that clip that I searched around online and found this great interview where he talks alot about his approach to playing the bass. You get a great sense for how humble he is in this interview (he claims he never plays the same thing twice because sometimes he can’t remember it at 9:38); you get a lot of insight into his approach to bass.

You got to admire JPJ, he manages to play busy but makes it sound great. While Geddy Lee is also a busy player, John Paul Jones has managed to pull his style off in multiple bands.

Did I mention he also has great tone? On the chorus of Mind Eraser, No Chaser JPJ has a great sound and builds a snaky and almost sinister-sounding bass line that adds tension from about 0:41 up to 1:35 – lovin’ it!

Okay, so by now you already know that I think the Crooked Vultures album is killer and well worth obtaining a copy of. If you don’t believe me – the tunes are on Youtube for free (at least they were when I wrote this).

If you want the real thing, you can check out Crook Vulture CDs here. If you’re sick of the standard pop fare on the radio these days and want something a little more compelling and musical, Them Crooked Vultures might be just what you’ve been waiting for.

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  • I hope that you’ve picked up JPJ’s solo albums since you wrote this. I greatly like them both and saw him tour in support of them (the second time opening for King Crimson).

  • Hey Rone,
    I have yet to check out John Paul Jones’ solo material – definitely on my ‘music to check out’ list! Thanks for sharing!

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