Any review regarding Sonny Jim has to begin with the following quote from Classic Rock Magazine: “Wales’ hidden answer to the Foo Fighters”. No place to start other than that quote. Not only does it offer up a brief introduction to a band that constantly surprises on each new offering, but it also lets the rock fraternity know that an outlet with an impressive circulation and following, is aware of these guys and hopefully they won’t be “hidden” for much longer. To make it easier for people who might be unaware of Sonny Jim, the band have put together ‘Sweet 16’ – a collection of 16 highlights recorded between 2012 and 2020. In current-day streaming terms; it’s one hell of a playlist.
Hailing from Bridgend, South Wales, Sonny Jim began life as the trio of Jay Donagh (vocals), Lloyd Jenkins (guitar), and Robbie Brewster (drums), with bassist Grant Moon joining on bass later on. With several EP’s and albums under their collective belts, Sonny Jim have amassed one hell of a body of work, and ‘Sweet 16’ has something for everyone from various points in the Sonny Jim history.
The opening twenty minutes or so of the album is relentless; opening track ‘Mutual’ is a powerful slice of muscular modern rock fuelled by the vocal prowess of Jay Donagh and the six-string work of Lloyd Jenkins which is lush and wide-ranging (lovely funky, soulful strains in the background). ‘The White Witch’ quickly follows on with Donagh throwing down some Daltrey-esque rasping vocals, while Robbie Brewster controls the pace with a deft touch from behind the kit, and Jenkins peels off another lengthy, soulful guitar solo. One of Jim’s finest tracks, and one of those moments where you are left scratching your head as to why it was not on wall-to-wall rotation on every mainstream rock radio station worldwide. ‘Don’t Know What You’ve Got Til It’s Gone’ is a gorgeous, slow-burning, cautionary tale that features some rather nifty guitar tones, and another killer show from the man behind the kit. ‘No Shame’ is a perfect in-your-face vocal performance from Donagh and it’s easy to imagine him venting in front of a mic in a studio as he put his vocals down. With its Feeder-like melodies (mixed with crunching guitar riffs) ‘I Want A Tattoo’ is hugely contagious and in some bizarre parallel universe, it’s a massive, number one single.
With the opening twenty-minute salvo out of the way, the album settles down with the gritty ‘Dead Man Walking’, which smolders away with a sleazy guitar tone from Jenkins on a track that at times sparks memories of Pink Floyd’s ‘Young Lust’. A pretty damn magical moment. The quality shown in the front nine continues as the band turns into the back nine. The vocal melodies on ‘Look Both Ways’ are as thrilling now as they were back in the early days of the band, ‘Memories & Souvenirs’ continues to be one of the best moments that a British band have captured on tape in the last ten years, ‘Save My Soul’ is the band at their full-throttle best, the country-tinged ‘Stick Around’ is so wonderfully light that it does what it says on the tin and sticks around for some time afterward, while the darker closing track ‘Things Are Gonna Change’ is both hopeful as well as cautionary.
One of the most pleasing aspects of listening to a collection like this, in the way that it has been compiled, is the notable growth within the band, especially in the songwriting department. The last ten years or so have given the band so much subject material to pick from, and the band have risen to the occasion. The high standard of playing was always there from day one, and in Jay Donagh, Sonny Jim have a vocalist of impressive range and stature, rather ironically, just as the planets were aligning and the band were really on a roll, Covid struck, and well, we know what happened next. Now though, now is the perfect time to acquaint yourself with this very fine band.
‘Sweet 16’ is available now via Holier Than Thou Records, more information here.
Review – Dave