Reviews Zone

Rob Jungklas: Blackbirds (Madjack Records) Out now


5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)



Rob Jungklas is a bit of a legend in his native Memphis. He has dropped 10 albums since his debut, “Closer To The Flame” in 1986. He ahd worked the circuit in his home town for 15 yesrs bafor ladning that recoed deal.

In recent years, he has released four critically acclaimed recordings on Madjack Records, “Arkadelphia”, “Gully”, “Mapping The Wreckage” and “The Spirit & The Spine”. This is his fifth on that lael, after self releasing “Nothing To Fade” in 2014.

“Blackbirds”, is a continuation of his exploration of the holy and profane. On the strength of an MTV video aired for the single ’Boys Town’, in 1987, directed by 10cc’s Godley & Creme, Rob achieved modest chart success, and went on to create the iconic regional anthem “Memphis Thing”.

The more reflective “Work Songs For A New Moon” that followed 2 years later on RCA, showcased Jungklas nuanced blend of pop songwriting and Memphis style r’n’b. He got disillusioned with the music business and quit until 2001, after cutting an album that did not get released by the label.  He married, earned a degree, taught English and science and began paying music again, before he released an album in 2003. Treading blues ground instead of the rock stuff he did back in the day. Another blues record followed in 2007, before albums in 2010 and 2013.

On “Blackbirds”, the tile cut opens Rob’s account. Moody, reverb thick, mid-tempo, atmospheric affair with a commanding and distinctive vocal. Interesting stuff, draws you in to the next track.

“The Spiritual Beauty Of Material Things”, maintains the mystery and the hypnotic vibes. His vocal comes from the heart and soul and builds in intensity, putting me in mind of the brilliant Liam McKahey from the band Cousteau and now called CousteauX.

Rob’s vocal style perhaps subconsciously channels parts of Roy Orbison, David Bowie, Jacques Brel and Scott Walker. That brooding, smouldering, aching, weeping delivery with a distinctive and unique style of his own. Maybe even subtle nods to Leonard Cohen for the more melancholic nature of some of the material.

This is not an album you cherry pick random tracks from, or stick on while you chat to your mates on your new smart phone. This is a complete experience and must be heard in its entirety and in track listing order. There’s a bit of dark gothic core to it too, and I was reminded of the UK band Bauhaus and their superb singer Peter Murphy from back in the 80s, when I heard this singer.

“Shine” is a standout cut; a bit of an epic and the strings combined with Rob’s stunningly emotional vocal is an intoxicating mix. On “Gone”, he soars in Springsteen territory on a heart-wrenching ballad, another classy piece of song writing.

His vocal timbre again brings “The Boss” to mind on “Diggers”. A really powerful story of the men who died digging out the river to dam the Mississippi to stop their cotton fields flooding and ruining the crop. A gift of a song and surely this will get picked up by a big-name artist and covered, to buy Rob a new house and car, someday. Well-connected publishers and song pluggers, take note. THE track of the album. By far. Simply breathtaking.

“Vitriol” is a beautiful song with a restrained vocal. The anthemic closer, “Carry Me Home” borrows from “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”, often heard on the terraces of any rugby game in this country on a Saturday afternoon.

Rob penned nine of the 10 songs here, apart from music for “Hymn” which is “a traditional shape note spiritual melody”. The record was produced, engineered and mixed by Pete Matthews and Toby Vest (the latter also adds keyboards, pedals and acoustic guitar to his contribution), and they did a heck of a job too.

Rob plays guitar and sings all lead vocals, and is joined by Luke White, Shawn Zorn, Dave Cousar, Paul Taylor, Rick Steff and Frank Ray on bass, drums, guitar, drums, piano and Hammond B3. Special credit to the string section of Krista Wooten Combest on violin and Jana Mesiner on cello, who add huge value.

Summing it up in one paragraph: Nuclear-age torch songs, which showcase a unique artist with a traffic-stopping voice who keeps it very real. A stunning bunch of songs that deserve to be heard far and wide. This is very special indeed. Welcome to the Jungklas!



By Simon Redley




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