Zach Jones has fired up his time machine once again. In 2012, he released a near perfect classic soul album, expertly channeling not just the sound but the spirit of Motown, yet still making it accessible and relevant to a 21st-century audience.

A year later, he’s done it again with “The Days.” But this time, there’s a new stop on his time-travel itinerary. Don’t worry, he’s still headed to Motown circa 1965. But there’ll be a stop in San Francisco along the way, because Jones has added just a hint of flower power to the time machine’s fuel this time around.

Zach Jones is a student of the long-playing record album as an art form, and he understands the importance of good sequencing, and the ebb and flow between the tracks of a great record. So even though every one of the songs on the new album stands out as a great individual song, it should come as no surprise that Zach intended “The Days” to be listened to as one single piece of work.

He even has his Bandcamp page set up so listeners can download separate tracks if they wish, but also gives them the option of downloading all of “Side A” and all of “Side B” as two separate 20-minute tracks.

“Side A” opens with a nod to Henry Mancini, with gorgeous cellos and violins courtesy of Lauren Hastings Genova and Emily Dix. Once the strings have set the mood, the intro segues right into opening track “That Time Again.” Jones is in classic Smokey Robinson mode here, employing the same falsetto singing style he used on last year’s “Things Were Better.” In fact, this particular track sounds like it would have fit seamlessly on that album.

It’s on the next track that we realize there’s something a little different going on with this album. “Not Meant to Be” is vintage AM radio pop, with a jaunty groove and a bright horn section that almost makes it sound like a mash-up of “The 59th Street Bridge Song” and “Got to Get You into My Life.”

The sunshiny hooks of “Not Meant to Be” contrast with a melancholy, “Eleanor Rigby”-esque string-section segue that announces the arrival of “Undertow.” Here, Jones finds himself in folk troubadour mode. A bit of reverb on the guitars gives the track just a hint of psychedelia, while the female backing vocals call to mind a young Emmylou Harris. The song swells from simple acoustic guitar strumming to a full and lush arrangement, featuring a lovely violin and sweet vocal harmonies.

Perhaps the simplest song on the album in terms of arrangement, “Why Pretend” is also one of the most poignant. Featuring only Jones’ voice and a lone acoustic guitar, it almost sounds like a great, lost, early Tim Buckley track. On an album that features track after track of complex, layered production, an uncomplicated yet still profoundly moving song like this is a testament to Jones’ monster talent.

The lush arrangements are nice, but they’re by no means a crutch. Jones proves that good songwriting doesn’t need any frilly adornments.

“Side A” closes with Jones back in full-on Motown mode, with the rousing “Time for a Change.” Featuring strings, horns and the insistent drumming of Chris Sweet, this is an uptempo show-stopper that would have given Berry Gordy a run for his money had it been released back in the day. It’s a refreshing reminder that when it comes to great music, sometimes two and a half minutes is all you need for the perfect pop song.

The uptempo vibe continues on “Side B,” with “Go It Alone” expertly fusing the classic Motown sound with the rock R&B of early Chicago or Blood, Sweat & Tears. A tinkling piano and a waltzing tempo give “Call This Place Home” a slight country vibe, with swelling strings and a rising crescendo adding a touch of Broadway.

“Feeding Fuel into the Fire” is a perfect chamber pop song, appealing to both fans of modern indie-rock and fans of vintage “Pet Sounds”-era pop radio. “Carry” mines similar territory, with Jones deviating from his usual falsetto and experimenting with mid-range vocal tones. It’s a refreshing change, and a fine climax to the album.

Oh, and listeners who choose not to experience the songs as a complete piece will miss out on a terrific coda: a sparse but haunting cover of “Days” by the Kinks.

In this YouTube era of the singles-driven, prefabricated pop star, the fact that artists like Zach Jones care enough to craft well thought-out, well executed albums like this gives hope that the art of pop is not dead. That it’s happening in Maine is a tribute to Jones and the local music scene.

The expression “Support local music while it’s still local” is a well-worn cliche these days. But in the case of Zach Jones, this is sound advice. Sure, he’s ours for now. But with recent mentions in Rolling Stone, and with albums of this caliber under his belt, Jones may not be a local hero for much longer. Better grab this album now. And not just a song or two … the whole album, as it was meant to be heard.

Check in with Jones at zachjonestunes.com, and pick up “The Days” at Bull Moose Music. Be sure to catch the album release show at Empire in Portland on Dec. 26.

Rick Johnson is a freelance writer and radio host from Westbrook. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

filed under: