JP DEN TEX (Arnhem, 1950) is a renowned Dutch singer/songwriter, mixing up rock music and Americana with European influences such as French chanson. Some pundits have dubbed his music “Beatnik Americana”, referring to JP’s quirky, nomadic brand of Americana.
JP’s first notable musical adventure was in the mid 70’s as a member of Tortilla, a legendary Dutch band whose music would now be described as alt.country. Later, in the 80’s, Den Tex recorded some critically acclaimed pop albums. Check out the interesting compilation album “Hungry Years (1980-1986)”, now available on Apple/iTunes . In 1998 JP went back to his rootsy origins, accompanied by a fine new backing band: “Emotional Nomads”. “Painstakingly honest, that’s how I’d like to be” JP wrote in the CD booklet. This album turned out to be a real break-through.
After the turn of the century Den Tex began focusing on storytelling, reviving the old seventies idea of the concept album. On the serial albums “Bad French” (2007) and “American Tune” (2009) his imagination takes the listener to the US: a European journalist sets out on a low-budget fact-finding trip from New York City to San Francisco, with the purpose of gathering fresh, on-the-spot information on the state of the American Dream. Somewhere along the road he picks up disheveled Russian Elena, a former escort girl from Brighton Beach NYC. Their roadside love story was later adapted for the stage and resulted in the successful theater show “American Tune” (2009).
It was followed up by the “Speak Diary” project (2012), yet another concept album and theatre show, in which the artist explores his guilt-ridden childhood. He takes a dive into his vast collection of old demos and rerecords some of them, in order to get reconnected to his neglected past. JP’s latest album “Wolf!” (retro folk, 2017) involves the downfall of Gustav Wolfowitz (an early retired, German-born music producer, living in Manhattan) who’s confronted with the sudden loss of material wealth due to bad investment advice. In what might be considered a belated midlife crisis, he also loses his two-timing girlfriend Gina. Bankrupt and heartbroken Gustav takes his downbeat story to the street, where he finds new freedom as a busking street musician. Less is more… With guitarist Yvonne Ebbers and violinist Diederik van Wassenaer.
They say ‘Beatnik Americana’—I say ‘Top quality adult pop music’
JP Den Tex is Dutch; sounds British and sings about America. Confused? You won’t be after you listen to AMERICAN TUNE; JP’s 16th long playing record. He recorded his first album, TORTILLA in 1971 and has been recording when the mood takes him ever since. JP has had a fascination with all things Americana since his teenage years and AMERICAN TUNE is full of reminisces of being stranded in Tucson, Arizona or reaching Phoenix on a Greyhound Bus and then roaming the streets of San Francisco. There is a very ‘English feel’ to the overall sound of the album; by which I mean Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello territory.
Love so Helpless and Hero are both hopeless love songs that must have been written at 3am with only a tabby cat and a cold cup of coffee for company. The Dreamer and Bowbow are real down-home Americana and stay with you like the after taste of a quality Bourbon. JP goes all Continental on us with Mon Desir Noir and Un Amour Fou a San Francisco but even these two songs are littered with Franglais like Geraint Watkins occasionally does on his albums.
There is a genuine warmth throughout AMERICAN TUNE and is nicely finished with a ska-shboom shuffle on Vagabond Heart and the toe tapping finale We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes (In the Morning) which is a swinging duet with Vera Van den Poel and will stay with me for a long long time. It’s very difficult to find fault with AMERICAN TUNE and I’m genuinely glad to have discovered such a rare talent as JP Den Tex.
JP Den Tex is Dutch born and sings like an Englishman, but some part of his heart has always been reserved for America. Den Tex took his own American odyssey and documented it in song on American Tune. Steeped in the deep richness of Americana, Den Tex sings and writes in the vein of Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe but finds a voice that’s uniquely his own.
American Tune opens with “The Dreamer”, a solid Americana composition informed by blues, country and rock influences. Den Tex’ guitar style is a mix of Knopfler’s quiet intricacy and Clapton’s innate mellowness. The song has a solid melody that’s catchy but not ostentatious; a great opener. “Love So Helpless” is about the futility we feel at times when tragedy befalls those we love and occasionally the unseen consequences. “When I’m Down” is danceable and catchy with a chorus you’ll be humming for days; truly one of the highlights of the album. “Mon Desir Noir” is a continuation of the story begun in “Love So Helpless”, exploring how the shock and shame of tragedy can drive people who otherwise love each other apart. “Down And Out In Phoenix” examines the aftermath of such a relationship, where broken dreams abound and the future looks as barren as the desert that surrounds the narrator.
A new chapter opens in American Tune with “Un Amour Fou A San Francisco”, a french/English take on new beginnings, new cities and new love. “Bowbow” turns out to be one of the most enjoyable turns on the album; very entertaining with a dirty blues feel. “Bowbow” is extremely catchy even if the meaning is at times opaque. Den Tex shows deep insight into the creation process with “True Art Is Lonely”, portraying the striving for perfection as a solitary pursuit. “Vagabond Heart” is an acoustic, early-rock arrangement complete with doo-wop style backing vocals. Catchy and fun, it’s an ode to all of those who don’t quite fit in. Answers come on “Hero” with the realization that victory often comes in the form of facing up to our own baggage, and the rewards seem to come quickly once we face ourselves. Den Tex closes with a brilliant cover of “We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes”, a Joyce Allsup-penned tune recorded by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris among others. Den Tex duets with Vera van den Poel providing a unique aperture into the camaraderie of loneliness and the moments when its boundaries are shared.
JP Den Tex spins a tale of love, loss, grief and renewal on American Tune. The fall from grace is hard, but rebirth the more difficult task in a quietly competent collection of songs that won’t wash over you but quietly insinuate themselves into your mind. Den Tex is a deft story-teller, changing pace and perspective enough to keep the story vibrant. In an age where concept albums have lost their luster, Den Tex offers a shining example of what’s right with the form.
The songs on American Tune are, perhaps, fictionalised autobiography. Maybe they’re actual autobiography, I don’t know, but it’s a good set up for a song collection. The protagonist takes a road trip across America, from east to west, seeking to illuminate his European perception of The American Dream. In the process he’s forced to come to terms with his own restlessness and with his, if you like, European Dream of the possibilities of The American Dream. It’s intriguing stuff and, with these ideas being woven into music that is country tinged rock – a range of sound that goes from Kris Kristofferson to Dire Straits with plenty of side trails, there’s plenty of mingled strands of cultural experience for us to muse on.
What is very noticeable is that the fellow sure knows how to put a song together. There are some really good ones here, the pick of them probably being “Love So Helpless” which is a peach of a tune and the one that put me very much in mind of Kris Kristofferson. There’s a few other songs nearly as strong and even the lesser lights have their charms. Recorded in Holland with a bunch of Dutch musicians the playing is assured but with a nicely loose feel, very easy on the ear and not at all afflicted with the disease of trying too hard to sound authentically American. The album closes with a rather nice cover of “We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes”; at first pass it sounds a bit like karaoke but I’ve come to really like it; Kees Maat’s accordion playing gives the arrangement a bit of a zydeco feel – I think you’d be hard pushed not to smile happily at it.
John Davy, Flyinshoes Review/No Depression Pages
Having been around music since the 1970s when he was a member of the Dutch band Tortilla, JP has gained plaudits for his work from around the world. Since then, he has recorded many albums to critical acclaim with this being not too different to his previous releases.
The thirteen songs have a flavour of European pop and Americana but delivered in the style of Ryan Bingham, JP was involved in the writing of all the songs tunes either solo or as a co-writer. “Italian Love” is the most impressive with an opening that is quite similar to Orleans’ “Dance With Me.” The rhythm of the song is wonderful with impressive production values.
Wolf! is a mixture of emotional songs – such as the “our love is falling apart” of Modern Love, some standards – a nice enough but pretty unnecessary version of In The Pines – and some political songs offering a critique of the money worshipping society. These last are the main meat of the album, and are also the best suited to JP Den Tex’s gruff vocal. The best examples of this are the mid-album pairing of On Days Like This and Money Money (Je M’en Fou). The first of these is an angry protest about spiralling inequality which really bites with its mix of sung and spoken call and response “Some folks have a lot (that’s about 1% of the people) / Some folks have enough (that’s about 39% of the people) / Put together they possess 99% of the world’s riches / Which leaves the rest of us fighting over the remaining 1%”. It’s a true protest song – direct and powerful. Money Money (Je M’en Fou) is a gentler, reflective take on the rat race and trades relentless capitalism for humanity “We are more than what we own / Heart of gold or heart of stone”.
Another standout track is Beatnik Americana, it’s a list of influences and heroes from William Burroughs to Willy Nelson, taking in Bob Zimmerman and The Big Bopper along the way. It’s got a bit of a feel of Eric Andersen about it – that’s a good thing for certain. Wolf! is an album that when it’s good is truly good, and when it’s not it’s not truly poor, just disappointing alongside the better stuff.
“Chrystal clear proof of the many talents of JP Den Tex: as a performer, songwriter and storyteller.”