Brother JT, a.k.a. John Terlesky, has been around the block a few times. This album, the first in five years under his Brother JT3 moniker, is another stab at marrying the worlds of gospel, psychedelia, blues and pub rock. Terlesky joins forces with bass player Art DiFuria and drummer Jamie Knerr for this incarnation of his long-running project, creating an album so mired in the canonical range of punk-psych bands like the Red Krayola and the 13th Floor Elevators that it positively reeks of patchouli oil and incense.
The album begins with an excruciating misfire in the shape of “Lift You Up.” The song serves as a painful reminder of nothing less than the opening track of the Doors’ woeful post-Jim Morrison album, Full Circle, in which the singer-less band incited its waning audience to “Get Up and Dance.” Terlesky’s attempt at delivering an uplifting message paves similarly meager dividends. His fake English accent brings to mind Tom Robinson and Auteurs frontman Luke Haines, but he lacks the pithy lyrical wit of either.
As a general rule, Jelly Roll Gospel gets better as the guitars get louder. Second song “Accident Waiting” is a step in the right direction, with Terlesky delving into his bag of nicely distorted riffs. “Ribbon Driver” ups the ante even further, with the band hitting the kind of fluid stoner groove that has garnered Terlesky numerous Roky Erickson comparisons.
It’s this kind of easy-on-the-ear psych-rock that Brother JT3 does well. “Way Out” is strung around a modest mid-tempo blues riff, gurgly Moog sounds, and treated vocals that recall Black Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan.” “Bad Vibrations” has a nice stodgy riff and some muted slide guitar, albeit with lyrics that sound like a bad private joke.
And that’s the big problem here: Terlesky’s stoner wisdom really begins to grate as the album progresses. Most of the lyrics sound like an afterthought, something tossed off while the singer sucked on a bong during his lunch break. Can he really be singing, “That’s the way I like it like that, when the groove gets all fat, and the girls look yummy, and there’s milk and honey” atop the awfully titled “Do Ya Good”?
It’s possible that there’s a rich vein of humor at work in Terlesky’s lyrics that I’m just not tapping into. But it isn’t apparent, even on repeat listens, and a good joke never needs to be explained. Jelly Roll Gospel ends with a messy nine-minute jam that goes nowhere. It acts as an unfortunate summation of the Brother JT3 sound, which is full of half-baked ideas that lack the coercion of the artists Terlesky is so desperate to emulate.