|Musical Style: Hard Rock||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2014||Artist Website: Sign of Jonah|
|Tracks: 12||Rating: 75%|
|Running Time: 48:08|
This just in: Blues based hard rock is back, and its back stronger than ever! Those that ‘wax nostalgic’ for the good old days of driving guitar riffs, heartfelt vocals, shuffling bass lines, gritty slide guitars, acoustic lacings and occasional Southern influences will find themselves a new home in Sign of Jonah and its August of 2014 full length debut Sacrifice. Direct comparisons mirror with the throwback sounds at hand, including the heavier (Resurrection Band, F.O.G., Mission of One and Thieves & Liars) and lighter (Glenn Kaiser Band, Darrell Mansfield and Prophet Azal).
Hailing from Wichita, Kansas, Sign of Jonah is the brainchild of founding member Gary Heitz, who in addition to handling lead vocals, lead guitar and bass contributes majority of the Sacrifice songwriting while also engineering the project. Sign of Jonah got its start when Heitz began jamming with guitarist Scott Miller in Calvary Chapel outreach band Beyond the Veil. After Beyond the Veil disbanded, the two recruited heavy hitting double bass drummer Mike Smith to round out the Sign of Jonah line-up. Many will remember Scott Miller from his Pilgrimsprog project, a progressive rock concept album based upon John Bunyan’s classic book Pilgrim’s Progress. On Sacrifice, Miller provides rhythm guitar along with co-writing several songs and writing and fronting the track “Idea”.
Sacrifice begins to two of its heaviest in its no-nonsense title track and “Refine My Heart”. Former proves a brazen and hard-edged mauler that starts to distorted guitar feedback that gives way to hulking guitars and an assailing bass line. Mid-period Rez Band is the first thing that comes to mind. Latter maintains the hard rocking proclivities but in the more accessible package. With a faster tempo prevailing, the song upholds a groove-based element and catchy chorus approaching the radio friendly (I am somewhat reminded of Daniel Band). The two find Heitz standing out with both his middle-register vocal abilities (ranging from smooth to raspy tinctures) and blues based lead guitar (straight from the Stu Heiss school of soloing).
“Idea” reflects a similar hard rocking edge in straining towards an inspired tempo with staunch guitar walls carrying it front to back. The main difference is Miller’s vocals, which lend a more even touch when placed alongside those of Heitz (the two complement one another equally in this capacity).
The bluesy Southern flavorings to “Satisfied” rank with my albums favorites. Yes, big doses of Southern heart and soul as pace is raucously upbeat and tightly woven guitar harmonies align with the infectious setting at hand. Engaging and fun to listen to is the feel at hand. Likewise, “You’re The Rock” brings an every bit high-energy boogie flavored blues heavy rock sound (Glenn Kaiser Band could not do it any better). Plenty of slide guitars abound, while the Southern aspects return for the instrumental moments.
“Right To Life” takes a traditional blues heading, tempering the pace and drenched in emotion with shuffling bass lines and earthy guitars throughout. The strength to the song resides in how it mournfully plods but fails to sacrifice melody in the process. “Every Day” sustains the traditional blues leanings but at the more upbeat tempo (think Dave Perkins’ Pistol City Holiness release). Accented by big doses of Gospel choir vocals, this one will have you singing along and tapping your toes with repeat listen.
Sign of Jonah manifests a lighter side in its acoustic material. “The Gift” represents an acoustic ballad with its airy feel as a jazzy bass line carries the backdrop (and instrumental section) and distant backing vocals its haunting chorus, while second ballad “You Gave” comes across ethereal from its worshipful form and underlining commercial essence. “All That Shall Remain” sustains the acoustic penchant but in the more rocked up format (sort of like Liberty N’ Justice). A hint of AOR and melodic rock comes to the forefront as a result.
Of the two remaining acoustic numbers, “New Man” maneuvers at a forward tempo (Heitz shows off his fast-fingered acoustic skills on this one) and “In My Heart” a slower pace from receiving the full ballad treatment. Yes, the two are good, but five acoustic numbers on a twelve-song album is a bit heavy and makes one wish for another hard rocker or blues based piece instead. It is not that the acoustic material is bad (which it is not) but rather that taking a heavier heading is of such high quality.
Production successfully sidesteps the thinness that can characterize independent releases. No, not a great deal of polish, but enough to allow for proper separation of the instrumentation (bass in particularly stands out in the mix).
Sign of Jonah represents a throwback not just musically but lyrically as well. One need consider how the groups prose hearkens back to an era when the Christian music scene was not so much an ‘industry’ but rather ministry was the priority. This reveals itself in the chorus to “Refine My Heart”: Jesus is the Light. Jesus is the way of salvation. Jesus gave His life to save us from our sin. Jesus is the hope and resurrection.
Also standing out in this capacity is “Sacrifice”, focusing on the crucifixion (They pound the nails through my flesh. Forgiveness is all I have left. I poured out my lifeblood for all human kind. But Thy will must be done), and “The Gift”, a ‘Gospel in one song’ as described by the group (Jesus loves you, please don't turn your back on Him. Know He died for you, only one to rise again. Reach out your hand and believe, on the One your must receive. Who offers eternity). “Right To Life” takes an anti-abortion stance (Don’t you know we all deserve our God given right. The right to life. A thousand children die each and every day. How could we have ever let things get this way), while “You Gave” sets a worshipful tone (Holy God in heaven I praise Your name. All creation will bow to You. Light and holiness surround You now. I feel the presence of Your Spirit now. Filling my life with Your love).
Sign of Jonah succeeds on Sacrifice by emphasizing equal parts music and ministry while hitting home runs in both areas at the same time. Yes, blues heavy rock is back and in the diverse form that is uniquely Sign of Jonah: At times heavy at times lighter at times acoustic and others Southern laced but always good. Gary Heitz proves a multifaceted performer accordingly (he does a lot of things equally well) and Scott Miller a strong right hand man. I hope that Sacrifice hints of more to come from Sign of Jonan.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Sacrifice” (5:00), “Refine My Heart” (4:33), “Satisfied” (3:30), “The Gift” (5:17), “You’re The Rock” (3:01), “Right To Life” (4:49), “Every Day” (3:17), “You Gave” (3:44), “All That Shall Remain” (3:59), “New Man” (2:58), “Idea” (3:42), “In My Heart” (4:00)
Gary Heitz - Lead Vocals, Lead Guitar & Bass
Scott Miller - Rhythm Guitar
Mike Smith - Drums
Jennie Brightup - Background Vocals
Jeff Chester - Bass
Kevin Brightup - Drums