On “Izzy Stradlin And The Ju Ju Hounds”, Stradlin leaves his GnR-past behind (no great loss – for him), and presents himself as a rock guitarist in the vein of the Faces and the Stones, but with a style all of his own.
This is a wonderful rock n’ roll album, plain and simple, and worth all of five stars. It continues to grow on me, and I’ve had it ever since it came out some thirteen years ago.
It may be lacking the obvious pop hit, but the quality of the songs is so high all the way through, not a single truly weak moment in sight. All in all, a real testament to Izzy Stradlin’s abilities as a songwriter, a guitarist, an arranger, and a producer.
The album contains a mixture of bluesy rockers (including a faithful cover of Ronnie Wood’s “Take A Look At The Guy”), ballads, and even a reggae-cover, Frederic ‘Toots’ Hibbert and the Maytal’s “Pressure Drop”.
On “Ju Ju Hounds”, Stradlin has surrounded himself with an extremely competent backing band, including former Georgia Satelites-guitarist Rick Richards, drummer Charlie Quintana, and the Faces’ keyboardist Ian McLagan playing piano and Hammond B3 organ.
And the results are terrific. Stradlin’s vocal delivery is somewhere in between the nasal whine of Bob Dylan and the hoarse whisper of Keith Richards, but his range is actually not at all bad, and his voice is more powerful than you would expect if you’ve only ever heard him do “Dust n’ Bones” and “14 Years” with Guns n’ Roses.
The opening track, “Somebody Knockin’”, is a sturdy, mid-tempo rocker worthy of the Stones, and it is followed by the Ju Ju Hounds’ hard-rockin cover of “Pressure Drop”, with a catchy instrumental reggae-coda, complete with Izzy Stradlin himself humming along to the syncopated beat.
Then comes a folksy little tune, “Time Gone By”, which feels like a ballad but is really mid-tempo, and ringing with mandolins and hand-claps, and the absolute highlight of Stradlin’s solo career, the song that should’ve become a classic, but inexplicably never did:
“Shuffle It All” starts off with a bluesy bass riff, then come the guitars, and finally the drums and the Hammond B3 kicks in, driving the song along. This is one of the best, grooviest rock shuffles I have ever heard, and the Rolling Stones would’ve been proud had they written it.
“Bucket O’ Trouble” is a short punk-throwback, and then comes another highlight, the hard rocker “Train Tracks”, with Stradlin and Rick Richards drawing a blueprint for all aspiring two-guitar combos to follow.
“How Will It Go” is a tender love song, mainly acoustic, but with Richards playing great electric fills over Stradlin’s intricate rhythm and former Broken Homes-bassist Jimmy Ashworth’s mandolin.
And that is followed by perhaps the catchiest rocker on the album, “Cuttin’ The Rug”, sporting more great, interlocking guitar work from Stradlin and Richards, and organ by Ian McLagan.
Finally, Ronnie Wood himself guests on “Take A Look At The Guy”, playing lead guitar and singing backup, and the album closes with the seven-minute “Come On Now Inside”, a slow, melancholy blues featuring great slide work from Rick Richards and Ian McLagan playing piano.
You may need to listen to this album a few times in order to truly appreciate it, but once you do, it’ll stay with you.
“Izzy Stradlin And The Ju Ju Hounds” is one of the select few albums that I keep coming back to, even after ten years. It is musical craftsmanship of the highest order, but it is not a pop record, and Izzy Stradlin with his raspy, nasal voice is no Perry Como. Still, why this did not become a real hit is beyond me. Song for song, it is as good as the Faces’ best work, and better than anything the Rolling Stones has done since the seventies.