Live Review: Sam C. Jones and The Sinners @ Jammin’ Java — 5/23/21

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Sam C. Jones performs at Jammin’ Java on May 23, 2021. (Photo by Mark Caicedo)

Sam C. Jones is a threat. Or better said, a triple threat. After experiencing his two-set performance at Jammin’ Java this past Sunday evening, I was blown away by his singing and guitar chops, his dance moves, and the ease with which he commands a stage.

A quick review of his website reveals Sam’s local origins (born and raised in Alexandria, Virginia), his performer-and triple threat-bona fides (actor, multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter and composer), and his love for performing (joined a summer theatre group in high school building sets, running crew, and once he’d performed onstage, there was no stopping him).

In a preview of what could be happening all over the country as pandemic lockdowns and fears begin to subside, outdoor concerts and festivals may again occupy music lovers’ weekends. With a bright sun shining above, Sam and his band, The Sinners (drummer Julian Berkowitz, keyboardist Steve Arnold, guitarist Connor Holdridge, and bassist Dan Wolfe) took the stage just after 6pm with the title track from his 2019 debut EP, Call Your Friends. After running through a couple more originals including “Born to Love You” from his new EP, Overdue Confession (released in March 2021), Sam demonstrated why he was selected to play Elvis in the hit musical “Million Dollar Quartet,” performing to perfection the popular covers, “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Hound Dog” complete with signature Presley hip gyrations and lip sneers.

Watch the official video for “Born to Love You” by Sam C. Jones and The Sinners on YouTube:

One of the challenges for musical artists at the dawn of their careers is genre confusion — not for the artist but for music writers and observers. The pressure to assign the performer to a category can be overwhelming. This struggle (“Is he country or Americana, folk or rock, rockabilly or blues?” and on and on) is a disservice, both to artists and fans. Over time, the artist inevitably finds her/his comfort zone and artistic space and, voilà, a career is born. Hence an artist such as Sam can go from the recognizable — an Amy Winehouse cover, “Valerie,” to Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” — to an original that very few have heard, “Childhood Escape Plan” without missing a beat, or losing an audience.

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The second set began with the Johnny Cash standard, “Folsom Prison Blues,” and continued through a series of songs showcasing Sam’s ability to handle any genre; country, pop, blues, and even soul/funk (Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”). But it was the performance of John Mayer’s bluesy, “Gravity,” that truly blew me away. It became an extended jam as each band member was given an opportunity to stretch out, the transitions rising and falling perfectly, and Sam’s vocals giving the song its powerful emotional punch. It may not have been his composition, but on this particular evening Sam and band elevated “Gravity” well above a mere cover to make it their own.

Singer, dancer, actor…Sam does it all and though theatre is still a major part of a long-term plan (“there are some shows on my bucket list I haven’t performed yet”) his embarking on a summer of shows with The Sinners will allow him to stretch his ambitions. One of Sam’s early gigs was at Jammin Java as a high schooler many years ago, but Sunday’s show was his first as a professional musician. I suspect it won’t be his last.

Jammin’ Java’s outdoor shows are free, though please take advantage of the food (Union Pie’s pizzas are outstanding!) and beverage offerings, and be sure to show your generous appreciation to the serving staff. You’ll also want to check out, and purchase, the artists’ merchandise as well as drop by the “Donation Station.”

Although mask restrictions have been relaxed for outside shows at Jammin’ Java, please wear a mask inside the venue and respect the distance of the people around you! Enjoy the music.

Here are some photos of Sam C. Jones and The Sinners performing at Jammin’ Java on May 23, 2021. All photos copyright and courtesy of Mark Caicedo.

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