On first hearing, Jordan Tice would appear to be an artist that’s prone to bask in simplicity. After all, the 13 songs on his new album Motivational Speakeasy rely solely on unaccompanied songs played on acoustic guitar, sometime with vocals, but just as often without. Given the fact that these barebones performances suffice, any hint of additional embellishment never needs further consideration.
Still, Tice’s skills as both an instrumentalist and a songwriter can’t be written off as merely fanciful indulgence or as an attempt at simply sharing some casual conceits. Tice is an informed artist with a dedication and devotion to arcane grassicana, and each of these songs are informed by an array of seminal influences, from John Hartford and Norman Blake to John Fahey, Leo Kotke, and Mississippi Fred McDowell.
His supple fretwork bears a similarity in style to each of those American masters, and on songs such as Tell Me Mama, Creation’s Done, and Bad Little Idea, he takes his cue from a rural blues tradition that originated from various locales of the deep South, be it the hills of Appalachia or the rural reaches of Mississippi, Georgia and Eastern Tennessee.
Tice appears particularly enamored with replicating the populist appeal mined by Woody Guthrie and other traveling troubadours whose music generally spoke directly to those that worked the land and did what they could to simply to survive. The breezy acoustic amble at the core of such songs as Walkin’, Matter of Time, Ready To Go, and Goin’ On Down provides a casual caress that accentuates the appeal. So too, the adept instrumentals Ghost Story, Stratford Waltz, and Bachelorette Party allow for a blend of subtlety and skill that still leaves room for ease and affability. Tice eschews pretense, and instead populates his music with his ageless instincts.
Of course, Tice is no newcomer to this arena. A member of the superb stringboard Hawktail — a trio that also includes Brittany Haas and the Punch Brothers’ Paul Kowert — he helped shape their pair of excellent LPs. He’s got an outstanding collaborator here as well, none other than Kenneth Pattengale of The Milk Carton Kids, a man who also knows a little something about shaping tasteful trappings.
Ultimately, Motivational Speakeasy lives up to its title in a real and formative way. Consider this album a solitary success.