Milo Jones, a singer-songwriter who sounds like a calmer, yet gruffer, Devendra Banhart if he always had a fifth of Jack Daniels by his side, must be a hard working guy. To pump out 19 tracks of just him and his guitar, with little else, must have taken a lot of effort. It’s a wonder he didn’t get bored because even listening to Lifeline in its entirety is a draining task. Lifeline, for the most part, is just Jones and his guitar. While Jones can hold his own for most of the album, the simple songs blend together and none stand out as particularly stellar tracks.
Instead of instrumental variation, Jones instead relies instead on voice modification. He uses different inflections based on songs, which has the dual quality of making some songs more interesting while making others simply off-putting. On his cover of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra’s “Summer Wine,” Jones sings the Sinatra part as what I assume is supposed to be a woman. Let’s just say that Lee better thank his lucky stars that Nancy was a chick. Jones also has the tendency to mumble through some of his songs making lyrics anything but intelligible. The mumbling gives his voice a Leonard Cohen-esque “I’m drunk but, fuck it, I’m still going to perform anyway” feel.
Out of Lifeline’s 19 tracks, nine are cover songs. Jones’ seemingly odd song choices point to how truly strange and fascinating he can be. I would love to see this guy’s record collection, or at least have been in the room when he made out Lifeline‘s tracklist. From perennial California kid Randy Newman’s “While the City Sleeps” to psychedelic stalwart Dino Valente’s “Something’s on Your Mind” to doo-wop classic “Mister Sandman,” Jones has the good fortune of having his wide range of choices never seem grossly out-of-place. The only problem is that Jones’ appropriation of each song, much like the rest of his album, tends to come at the price of homogenization. Fingerpicked and delicate, each cover loses a bit of its originality and ends up sounding very much like the rest of Lifeline. The once opulent “Summer Wine” by Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra becomes just like everything else on the album. It’s a credit to Jones that he didn’t simply copy the songs he chose to cover but there is a definite loss in translation.
Jones’ homogenization is not always such a crime. Lifeline contains several beautiful moments that are only enhanced by the album’s sparse production values. “Let it Go” is airy and light and the slide guitar on “Drunx” sounds wonderful when coupled with Jones’ fingerpicking style. And while the covers may still have that homogenized quality, each track as its own little Jones-ism. On “Mister Sandman,” Jones sings “And lots of wavy hair like Liber-fucking-racci,” a lyric that I’m assured Pat Ballard didn’t have in mind when he penned the tune in the first place.