Start spreading the news – New York’s hottest punk-blues collective are back in business. If you didn’t catch them first time round, then it’s high time you got to know Jane Lee Hooker better. Individually, the five members have pedigree to burn, turning heads and tearing up stages in seminal bands from Nashville Pussy to Bad Wizard. But when Dana ‘Danger’ Athens (vocals), Hail Mary Z (bass), Melissa ‘Cool Whip’ Houston (drums), Tracy ‘High Top’ (guitar) and Tina ‘T Bone’ Gorin (guitar) hooked up in 2012, they swore a blood pact to take Jane Lee Hooker all the way. “We’re a gang,” say the lineup. “We’re a family.”
Fusing modern smarts with vintage swagger, Jane Lee Hooker exploded off the NYC club scene with last year’s No B! – a debut album whose rocket-fuelled blues covers won acclaim from Classic Rock and The Blues, and led them onto major stages like Rockpalast. “That was definitely a bucket-list moment,” they reflect, “and a really big deal for us.”
Now, as a twist in the tail of 2017, second album Spiritus finds Jane Lee Hooker writing their own entry into the great rock ‘n’ roll songbook. “Spiritus is almost entirely original music written by the band as a unit,” they explain, “which has been really exciting and really gratifying. We write so naturally well together, it’s been pretty effortless.”
Let other bands cut, paste, auto-tune and quantize. For Spiritus, Jane Lee Hooker once again hit the studio with esteemed producer Matt Chiaravalle and set the controls to “GO”. “We wanted this album to sound like we do live – raw and high energy,” they explain. “And we operated under the same credo we had with No B! – all live, no effects, no pedals, no overdubbing nonsense. I think we captured the excitement, and we have the same real sounds that we loved so much on No B!”
The production values might be old-school, but Spiritus is a creative leap forward. Rather than overthink the material, the band relied on impulse, with songs that captured their worldview as sessions began last summer. “Dana said something during the recording that really was an a-ha moment,” remembers High Top. Dana said, ‘The word ‘record’ (as in LP) comes from the verb ‘record’. We are just recording what we are doing at the moment’.
“So this is a record of what was coming out of us in the summer of 2017,” she continues. “One of the songs is about puppies, another song is about losing someone you thought you would have more time on earth with. One is about the legendary US venue Knuckleheads, another is about how falling in love can make you notice how beautiful and vibrant this world is. You have to guess which these apply to…!”
Spiritus is a tracklisting where anything goes. On How Ya Doin’, Dana treats this studio album like a live show, bantering with an imagined crowd over revving guitars and handclaps (“How ya doin’, Kansas City? It’s good to see ya. Don’t ya sit there looking pretty. You gotta get up on your feet”). Gimme That is a Stones-worthy swagger that blooms into a stomp-and-holler climax, while Mama Said features duelling guitars, rumbling bass and a defiant pick-yourself-up lyric (“Who ya gonna be, when life’s at its worst?”).
Be My Baby rides on a cool-as-hell guitar part, while Later On has a lazy drumbeat and a rolling lick, offering a hand up to a loved one who’s been suffering (“Tonight, you’re mine”). Then there’s Black Rat: a blues-on-speed riot and the most stinging moment here, with Dana firing out her vocal like a machine gun (“One day I’ll find your trail!”). Elsewhere, Ends Meet pairs clattering drums and slinking guitar with a socially aware lyric (“I’m full and hungry, we’re all just making ends meet”) while Turn On Your Love Light is a raucous, rockabilly-tinged riot with an irresistible shuffle beat.
In an album of impressive stylistic shifts, there’s also The Breeze: a nine-minute blues slow-burner that allows these master instrumentalists to stretch out. How Bright The Moon, meanwhile, is a marked change of pace; starting out with piano and a tender, nuanced vocal, it breaks into a roaring soul torch-song that is at once poignant, beautiful – and a tantalising signpost to the directions this fascinating band could take in the future.
“We wanted to have an ‘album’ that people would listen to from beginning to end,” explain the lineup, “and find something to love about every song.” Mission accomplished. In a world of manufactured bands and bubblegum pop, Jane Lee Hooker are the real deal. Join their rock ‘n’ roll revolution…