Album Review: Jack J Hutchinson – Battles

Review by Peter Coates –

Release – 6th Feb 2024

London-based guitarist / vocalist Jack J Hutchinson has continued to develop his hard-hitting blues-laden hard rock style over the past 5 years, and has followed up the epic The Hammer Falls record from 2021 with an altogether classier collection – just as heavy, and with riffs to burn, but seemingly a little more polished around the rougher edges.

The video, Bullets, was instantly on repeat here when released, and the album has a load more of the same quality, with producer, recording musician and co-writer Josiah J Manning (from Kris Barras’ band) continuing to work his magic.

The record erupts from the very first chords of the riff of Constellations, and the bass and drums that power in behind it.  Jack has softened his vocal delivery a little and this sits above the instruments with an increased level of melody. There is a ripper of a lead solo which bodes well for the rest of the album, and I am already hanging out for JJH to announce a couple more dates in early April so I can experience the new record live!   Days Are Gone has a steadier tempo, and the lower register vocals that are more familiar, and fit with the darker feel of the lyrics, but with some really smooth harmonies in the hook-laden chorus.  The pre-chorus guitar riff is a crusher and leads well into the chorus, and there is some real texture in some of the guitars woven over the main riff, and the final section of the track is a belter.   

The next track up, Bullets, is right out of the JJH top drawer, powerful riffs, solid rhythm section, with Billy Hammett smacking the crap out of his kit, in perfect time with the bassline in the accented segments.   This one motors along like an American muscle car racing across the desert, but also has some subtlety in the harmony vocals in the chorus.  There is a sizzling solo that is way too short, and a powerhouse final chorus to the sudden stop.

Another slow-burner in Road To Hell, with bass and drums weaving a complex pattern below the sparse intro, before this switches into a more straight-up blues rock ballad, with multiple layers of guitars beneath the mournful soaring lead break of the solo.  An intense vocal mid-section allows a brief pause for breath before the track re-ignites for the final chorus.

Running on Empty is slow and packs a real punch, with a rock-solid riff, and Jack showing a greater range in the vocals, and some atmospheric backing vocals that really add to the feel of the song.  There is another superb solo here – if again a bit short – but the lead guitar stays in the forefront for the last few crunching bars.  The tempo picks up again for Rip It Up, with some distorted vocals over the backing.  The chorus is super-catchy, and there is a screamer of a solo, with Billy showing off with some crisp drum fills.  Jack may be at his best when delivering one of his many blistering riffs over a simple bass and drum pattern, and Josiah J Manning has certainly been able to get the best out of the production for these elements of the album – simple but truly powerful.

Jack credits Paul Weller as the inspiration for Love Is The Law, which is a well-crafted and radio-friendly pop-rocker whose lyrics deal with the idea of the passing of time, and provides more evidence of the growing maturity in song-writing from Jack.  Much of this album references a theme of having to get over obstacle after obstacle, and Don’t Let The Fuckers Get You Down pulls this to the fore.   This has the trademark minor-key feel to the verse, and multiple layers of guitars and voices through the chorus, as well as some classic cow-bell in the intro.  Mid-song it goes double-time for the solo which blitzes from the speakers for the first half, before some terrific riffage through the middle-eight. This has balls and swagger to burn, and is one of the best things Jack has done to date.

Jack’s uncle was one of David Bowie’s guitarists, and Overdrive was written on one of his vintage guitars.  Jack says he was trying to write a Jean Genie style riff, and ended up with something closer to Metallica!  Again there is a superb production here, and a real change of direction mid-track which shows off multiple layers of riffs beneath the shrieking lead break, and the backing vocals adding to the warmth of the chorus.

The album closes with a ballad that opens with guitars reminiscent of Alex Lifeson on 2112, and Stay With Me and a simple voice and guitar delivery of the opening verse, before the band joins in.  The track remains rather low-key southern blues throughout, with a quick clean solo, and is a fairly mellow way to end the record.

This fourth album is certainly the most polished from Jack J Hutchinson, with the usual crunching riffs, and that blues swagger and groove from the earlier albums, and he has retained his vocal style and sound, which producer Josiah J Manning has enhanced and upgraded with some excellent harmonies and backing vocals.

It will be interesting to see what Jack does live, as some of the layers here may not be so easy to deliver with a simple guitar / bass / drums line-up – but this should take nothing away from the quality of the album.  It takes all of the things that we have found in Jack’s repertoire and has strengthened and enhanced them in a way that really magnifies the positive impact on the listener!

Guitar and vocals: Jack J Hutchinson 
Guitar and bass: Josiah J Manning
Drums: Billy Hammett

8 February 2024 – Album launch O2 Academy 2
9 February 2024 – Love Live Festival, Blackpool
10 February 2024 – Esquires, Bedford
11 February 2024 – The Musician, Leicester
14 February 2024 – The Railway, Winchester
22 February 2024 – Flying Circus, Newark
23 March 2024 – Rockin’ The Blues, Sittingbourne
27 April 2024 – St Austell Band Club
28 April 2024 – Bosworth Blues Festival
1 May 2024 – Bannerman’s, Edinburgh
2 May 2024 – Yardbirds, Grimsby
5 May 2024 – Outlaw Weekend, Glossop
11 May 2024 – Barry’s Blues Barn
29 June 2024 – Wildfire Festival

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Press Pic – Rob Blackham

Live Photos – Peter Coates