Ayron Jones is indebted. And he knows it.
“I’ve heard people try to emulate what Stevie Ray Vaughan did, and even myself,” the 27-year-old Seattle musician says. “I can try to emulate licks and stuff like that, but I don’t do what he did in terms of how he could portray emotion through every single note. Man, that guy could play one note and just make it sing.”
In the past year, Jones, who leads his band The Way, has earned numerous comparisons to the iconic blues-rock guitarist for his considerable guitar work, a fluid, emotive style rendered with acrobatic flair. This combination of skill and showmanship has earned the Roosevelt High School grad a number of accolades, including a top finish in the 2012 Hard Rock Rising contest and the attention of Anthony Ray, the artist better known as Sir Mix-a-Lot. Urged by a friend, Ray went to see the band at a U District club. As he walked up, he could hear the sound of The Way bleeding out onto the sidewalk.
“I would say they were all 50- to 55-year-old white guys, and I mean that in a good way,” Ray recalls. “The quality of what they were playing was insane and very Stevie Ray Vaughan–esque, [the] rhythm section just sounded beautiful, and I thought it was five guys. Then I walk in and it’s just three black dudes; the oldest one was only 28. I was like, wow. Then I turned to my friend who brought me and said, ‘Who’s recording them?’ and he said, ‘No one’s recorded them yet.’ That blew my mind.”
That wasn’t entirely true. The band had done a little recording and posted an EP’s worth of songs online. Soon after Ray heard them, though, that EP was offline and the band was preparing to enter Mix-a-Lot Studios to work on its first proper full-length album. That album, Dream, was released earlier this week, the product of a painstaking process.
“We had to record this album three times over,” Jones recalls. “The first time we recorded the music [Ray] was impressed with the skill of the music, but it wasn’t quite music and it wasn’t quite something that we were going to be able to push out and market and sell to people. He definitely challenged me to recreate or evolve the way that I wrote and the way that I heard music.”
The eight-song LP is being touted by the Jones camp as a mix of Vaughan and Nirvana, an edgier update of blues rock that reverberates with the Seattle sound. Some critics have drawn comparisons to Jimi Hendrix, though those seem more based on cultural ideas than actual style.
A more fitting analogy might be to another band-leading guitarist who also courted Hendrix comparisons: Ben Harper. Jones’ dynamic loud-soft songs, singed with athletic guitar solos, recall Harper’s aggressive middle-era work more than anything else. Both men have been influenced deeply by the blues and set afire by the aggression and angst of the ’90s.
Of course, Harper was creating his impassioned soul songs in the ’90s. Ayron Jones and The Way, on the other hand, is tasked with updating that sound. Dream, though more rooted in traditional blues rock than Ray or Jones are willing to let on, moves in that direction by introducing a more bombastic low end from the band’s hip-hop producer and some grit and grunge from its hometown’s not-too-distant past. The latter is most clear on closing track “Aberdeen,” an instrumental ode to something old that manages to sound like something new.
“What I was trying to do was capture the angst and the influence of Nirvana and the whole Seattle punk and grunge scene,” Jones says. “I just wanted to capture that and put it into an instrumental and use my guitar as a paintbrush, so to speak.”
AYRON JONES AND THE WAY With Sir Mix-a-Lot. Neumos, 925 E. Pike St., 709-9442, neumos.com. $15 adv. 8 p.m. Sat., Nov. 2.