JD & The Straight Shot

JD & The Straight Shot

“I needed something in my life where I felt like I was actually creating. Most of what I do as an executive is orchestrate,” explains JD & The Straight Shot’s founder and frontman Jim Dolan. Dolan’s day gig is President and CEO of Cablevision and Executive Chairman of Madison Square Garden, Inc. where he also oversees New York sports teams such as the Knicks and the Rangers. “I don’t actually set up cable and I don’t really shoot hoops, I suck at that,” he says laughing. “Music is something I’ve played since I was a kid. It’s me purely expressing myself.”

JD & The Straight Shot’s latest, Midnight Run, is a finely crafted collection of New Orleans-flavored roots music. Mystical, rustic, and shit-kicking hooky, it’s the powerhouse’s strongest and most distinctive batch of bluesy hoodoo. After 3 previous releases inspired by hard rocking blues, the band has found its home in the quiet fire of acoustic music. “I like this style of music for storytelling, it offers a more expressive palette,” Dolan says. The new EP’s second-line style syncopated grooves, glorious vocal harmonies, violins, banjos, and backbone acoustic guitar imbues The Straight Shot’s sin and salvation tales with haunting urgency.

The New York City-based group has been favorably compared to the Allman Brothers, The Rolling Stones, and The Black Crowes. They’ve been covered by The New York Times, ESPN, and New York Magazine, among other publications. Their song "Cant Make Tears" is the theme song for AMC's TV show Hell on Wheels, and their music has been featured in many films, including the critically acclaimed Hurricane Season. The group has toured with The Eagles (opening for them at New Jersey’s Giants Stadium and at Chicago’s Soldier Field), and opened for Eagles Joe Walsh and Don Henley on their solo tours. The Straight Shot has also performed at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the Austin City Limits Festival.

The EP opens with the propulsive title track. “Midnight Run” patiently unfolds with the grit and grace of dust bowl banjo, pining harmonica, and shimmering organ. Dolan’s limber vocals morph from a whiskey-coated growl in the verse to honeyed melodicism in the chorus where he joins in for some Crosby, Stills and Nash harmonizing. It’s a powerfully authentic slice of vintage Americana with a surprising genesis. “We were listening to electronic music when we wrote it,” Dolan says. “We really experimented with different rhythms to find a good bed for that banjo lick.”

The darkly spiritual imagery on the simmering “Holy Water” features some of the group’s most compelling lyrics. Lines like: Drink till I see some angels/Dancing round the moon/Gonna Drink till I see them angels/Cause they might be coming soon and At the crossroads sits the devil/The devil in my heart/Says we’re all going straight to hell/And I’m going to play my part evoke the scarred underbelly of New Orleans. The chain gang backups add an eerie ambience to the proceedings. “A lot our songs are about crucial moments in someone’s life. That song is loosely based on the movie Lawless. In that story, there is a decision to be made: Am I going buck the system and partake in some illegal activity or I am going to stick to my principals?” Dolan explains.

The playful Muddy Waters-ish stomp of “Voodoo Stew” finds Dolan cast as gun-slinging love guru. “That one is about not being so good at romancing somebody. I wrote it like a recipe for ‘Voodoo Stew’ with all the ingredients that go into capturing a romantic situation,” he says laughing. The tune boasts a revelatory accordion solo and smoldering guitar solo.

The band’s creative nucleus is Dolan, guitarist Marc Copely (B.B. King), and guitarist Adam Levy (Norah Jones, Amos Lee), this trio pens all the band’s music and lyrics. Instrumentally indispensible is keyboardist Brian Mitchell (Bob Dylan, Levon Helm) who also adds harmonica and accordion to the sonic stew. Rounding out the band are some of pop music’s finest session players, drummer Shawn Pelton (Rod Stewart, Pink, Daryl Hall, Buddy Guy), bassist Zev Katz (Aretha Franklin, Elton John), and violinist Lorenza Ponce (Sheryl Crow, Ben Folds, Bon Jovi).

Dolan started the band back in 2000. “At first it was just some guys from the office. The first gig we played was a company outing,” he says. “We practiced a lot but didn’t get a lot done.” When Dolan started honing his writing skills and studying with vocal guru Don Lawrence, he found his music required more seasoned and dedicated musicians. “I felt the music came to a point where it could be a professional effort, and that’s when I took it a step up and switched to session players,” he explains.

JD & The Straight Shot have recorded three previous efforts. Midnight Run is the group’s second project with esteemed producer Kevin Killen (U2, Peter Gabriel) at New York’s famed Avatar Studios. Killen has become an indispensible creative ally for the band. “Kevin allows us to really explore each song. He lets ideas flow but he’s also a great editor,” says Dolan

“Since I first picked up a guitar at 16, I wanted to create something that touched people,” Dolan says. “The last round of concerts had the best reception we’ve received to date. The best compliment I got was in the hotel hallway. This guy comes up to me and says: ‘I’m a lifelong Islander fan. I went to your show and I was hoping you would suck, but the fact is you were great, I loved your music.’ Touching someone like that by creating something myself, that was huge for me.”

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