WIB Listening Party #68: Jon Amor Blues Group


Jon Amor Blues Group

🍺 Hop Drops Citra Extra Pale

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Before I talk about my favorite entry in Jon Amor’s discography, let me go on record with a blanket endorsement. I admit it, I’m a fanboy. To my mind, the lanky guitar-wielding Briton flat out gets it. You can confidently grab any album he’s been involved with and know you’re going to hear a lean, well-executed batch of songs with some thought behind them. That includes The Turnaround, the brand new disc from his current project the Jon Amor Trio, which I unhesitatingly recommend. You can find out more about where he’s been and what’s on his resumé in the Who Is Blues interview that followed the release of the wonderfully eclectic Colour In The Sky in 2018.

Oh, by the way, we’re back.

By we, I mean me, because even though Who Is Blues is approaching its seven-year anniversary, it remains a one-man operation. So when a rather severe case of fall and winter doldrums sets in, as it did on this most recent trip around the sun, Who Is Blues falls silent. I’ve produced precious little content and not a single Listening Party since last September. No excuses, no blaming, it just didn’t happen.

We’re barely into March 2024 now, but the brightening skies and longer days are already giving me a springtime vibe. Reason enough to crack open a beer, reignite this digital platform and revisit what is truly one of my favorite records of the past 20 years.

As you should know by now, that’s the basic set-up here at the Listening Party. Beer meets blues. (In most cases! I don’t adhere to a strict definition of the blues and occasionally reach for an album from well outside the genre.) After the jump, you’ll find some sample tunes and a casual beer tasting. Other than that, I take the liberties blues magazines don’t give me. This space is for riffing freely on the album at hand and just about anything else that crosses my mind.

Today, the jumping off points are the eponymous Jon Amor Blues Group and Rye River Brewing’s Hop Drops Citra Extra Pale.      

I recently reconnected with the Jon Amor Blues Group’s 2011 debut – one of just two records they released before disbanding – for the most banal of reasons. My neighborhood in Cologne, Germany is a shit place to park. Come home after 6 p.m. when people are back from work and you’re screwed. Rather than cruise around for an hour, I usually abort my search for a parking space after a few minutes and drive to a street further off where they’re more plentiful. From there it’s a good ten to fifteen-minute walk back to my apartment.

But – good music can turn one of life’s little inconveniences into a private party.

So there I was, walking home, air drumming or air guitaring, maybe even singing along to the music in my ear buds, oblivious to the houses along Alarichstrasse and what their thoroughly respectable residents might think of me. More than a decade after my initial, intense love affair with the Jon Amor Blues Group album, I succumbed to it once again. All these years later, its mojo has not become any less potent. That’s the mark of a classic.

My attempt to describe its magic starts with the undeniable edge it possesses. It sounds neither overplanned nor overproduced, merely overdriven. The sound is immediate. You can hear and feel what each member of the quartet – guitarist Dave Doherty, bassist Chris Doherty, drummer Simon Small and Jon Amor on guitar and vocals – is doing on his respective instrument. Not one of the musicians holds back or takes a measure off, least of all Amor himself, whose singing crackles with cathartic intensity. (When I saw JABG live on the album tour, his voice was shot from the strain of performing these songs on a nightly basis.)

And that, my friends, is how it should be. The blues should not be a cozy, cuddly, predictable exercise in preserving the past, but rather an ungainly beast that sweats, bleeds, breathes heavily and has the power to knock you off your feet. JABG is an album rooted in tradition. You could say it even steals liberally from the best of them, from Wolf, Muddy and the rest. But you hardly notice because the whole thing is so damn energized.

That’s how you bring the blues into the 21st century.

Oh, right. The beer.

Hop Drops Citra Extra Pale is my first encounter with Ireland’s Rye River Brewing Company. Based west of Dublin in County Kildare, the company calls itself “the most awarded independent craft brewery in the world for the last two years.” I’m gonna take their word for it. The Hop Drops variety itself is billed as crushable, an oft-used term for a beer you can drink lots of without falling backward off the bar stool. It generally denotes a low to moderate ABV, like Hop Drops’ agreeable 4.5%.

Let’s get it on.

Holy water in the Devil’s cup. Yes! The Hop Drops Citra Extra Pale is indeed crushable and has me wishing I had more than just a single can at my disposal. It pours a pale honey hue with a thin head that vanishes quickly. The aroma is pleasant and mellow with the freshness of lemongrass. It’s got a tangy, somewhat bready taste and the exceptionally light body lets it go down easy.

I might go as far to say it’s light on flavor, but you know what? I’m in too good of a mood right now to nitpick. I’m enjoying Hop Drops on my back deck, where the hydrangea plants are sprouting prematurely, suggesting we’re nearly there, that spring and summer are not far off and that the stumbling, bumbling, doubts and endless dark days of winter 2023/24 will soon be a thing of the past.

So it’s back to the music, I say! And see you again next time.

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The Who Is Blues Listening Party is powered by Bierlager, one of Germany’s finest addresses for premium craft beer.


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