BOXING CLEVER: The singer who didn’t fit into any particular box. Until now. By Jim Irvin
Jess Roden, a gifted vocal journeyman, fronted several bands – The Alan Bown Set, Bronco, The Butts Band. Seven Windows, The Rivits- and released compelling records under his own name as a respected member of the Island family. A ubiquitous presence on the college circuit, TV and radio in the 1970s, he never managed to convert those opportunities into the kind of success enjoyed by friends and contemporaries like Steve Winwood, Paul Rodgers and Robert Palmer.
Roden was a different prospect, tending to experiment with his voice on every project, never quite settling on a signature sound. He began with a raspy R&B tone akin to Steve Marriott, which bursts out of The Alan Bown Set’s Northern soul singles. later, influenced by Buffalo Springfield and West Coast rock, he adopted a mellower, folk-soul feel on the Bronco albums. For The Butts Band – with ex members of The Doors – he turned bluesy; on his own records, which included productions by Allen Toussaint, he tried a white soul growl, while later, as part of keyboard duo The Rivits, he employed a colder, less emotional delivery.
Confusing for the public maybe, but he kept securing record deals, appearing on more than a dozen albums. Most of them have been hard to find for some time, though compilation CDs have cropped up recently. But they’ve just been trumped by Hidden Masters: The Jess Roden Anthology (Hidden Masters), an impressive 6-CD gathering of highlights from all Roden’s guises and a large amount of previously unheard material, all of it beautifully restored and presented in a handsome box.
It may be significant that the music that has aged best is found among the unissued material: the lovely Song 3, folksy The Farm and the stirring For Granted (I’m On Your Side) stand out, possibly because Roden’s relaxed and trying stuff out, tracks where he’s aiming at commerciality can feel more mannered. However, the tight groove and cool instrumentation of The Rivtts‘ Oo She Do, the closest thing to modern pop here, still sounds good. Roden – who retired from performing some years back – had to settle for being able to transfix a room rather than inspire a generation. No shame in that, of course, and his talent and versatility earned him many devoted admirers who’ll covet such a meticulously compiled treasure trove- in a limited edition of 950.
Hidden Masters is a new label and archiving service founded by former Island press officer Nell Storey, who’s planning similar excavation work on other Island acts such as The Distractions and Heads Hands & Feet, which, based on this evidence, we’re looking forward to with keen interest.