Album Review: Jen Mize & The Rough N’ Tumble

Review by Peter Coates –

Released – May 19th
Pathfinder Records

The self-titled debut album from 8-piece Country / Blues / Soul / Funk big band, Jen Mize & The Rough N’ Tumble is a fantastic collection of soulful, swaggering entertainment.

This is what you get when you get a sultry, powerhouse vocalist and you stick them in front of a talented bunch of musicians, with a horn section, and let them rip.

There is not much else like this out in Australia currently, and LM&TRNT is just superb.  I love stuff from Jamie Cullum and Colin James & The Big Band, which have the punchy soul and funk mixed with soul and blues, and Jen Mize and the band add a healthy dose of Bonnie Raitt-style Americana / Southern Rock to the cauldron, stir it up, and blow out the cobwebs.

Mize says. The aim was to “Get some real players together with a killer mix of old school rock, country/blues and soul. That stuff hits you, man- a tight rhythm section, two fantastic guitarists… when that B3 and Leslie get humming and those horns start in with their stabs and swells… Damn! It’s undeniable, still as good today as it was then. That’s what we are setting out to do with The Rough N’ Tumble.”

Jen cites influences from her youth as the Black Crowes, Cheryl Crow and Tom Petty, and throw in her Dad’s love of classic rock and renegade country and you sort of get the picture.  The record opens with the first single, Elevator Ride, which motors along over a rolling bass line, and what becomes the signature B3 organ and horn section combination, allows Jen to free-style the lead vocal line, and the rest of the band fill in the gaps.  The sleazy grungy guitar that opens up All Riled Up is the extra dimension that counters Jen’s voice perfectly, and is already my favourite on the record.  The band is a bunch of musicians Jen has worked with over her 15 plus years in Australia, and they ooze quality.

Askin’ Enough is in the same vein, an upbeat blues/soul number, that sees Jen’s voice show off a range that spans Aretha Franklin to Tina Turner, via Pat Benatar – including a sensual stripped-back middle-eight over a guitar monotone, while Jen’s voice and the organ build up the intensity before the band kicks back in for the closing choruses and the kick-ass ending.   Second single Out The Back Of The House is a corker, with a jazz-funk guitar riff alongside the organ and horns, over a background chatter that suggests a late-night dive bar while the band powers along in the corner!

After the opening 4 songs, we get a change of pace with Bukowski, almost a torch song for voice and guitar, with Jen pulling out all the stops to deliver a passionate and emotion-filled performance.  Lay Your Head Down turns the guitar sound up a bit, but still has a sparser sound initially, that warms up to an Americana-bluesy ballad, with lots of guitar licks behind the voice, and some clever backing vocals that interplay with the lead line.  

There is a spaghetti western vibe to One Of These Days, with the trumpet driving that sound, over a jazz / swing bass line, and some crowd-vocals, that just highlights the variety and versatility of the band.  Another stripped-back soulful ballad in Hell Of A Liar also sees Jen deliver a powerful lead vocal line that ranges from plaintiff whimper to impassioned roar and back again.

The fuzzy funk guitar is back for What They Don’t Know About Me, written with long-time collaborator Mark Sholtez, and this one really steps out of the zone with the rhythm and beat, with Jen’s voice being more of an instrument that weaves its way around the guitar, trumpet and keys while they provide the de-tuned back beat – so refreshing.  Where Do We Go From Here is a slow-burning jazz-rock number that verges on Alannah Myles / Shania Twain territory just in terms of the bass and drums pattern, and is then given an expanded vocal layering, with some exquisite lead guitar work towards the end.

The album copy I received then provides some additional radio edits of three of the tracks, which extends the overall listening experience nicely, and the last of them is the wonderful All Riled Up, which deserves a second listen in my book!  The Rough N’Tumble has delivered a top quality debut here, and Jen Mize has set her stall out as a superb front-woman with an enormous and super-strong voice, with a range that is just spectacular.  My guess is that the band will kick on a bit live, and this will all lead to a riotous and rockier version of some of these songs, interspersed with the soulful and jazzy tracks for some variety.

Left to right: Tristan Rogers, Andy Schrav, Mitch Power, Jen Mize,
Matt Luff, Jeremy Edwards, Zac Watson and Steve Fearnley.

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