Tag Archives: country

Jess & The Bandits: Fruit, Hull – live review

Last September, just as Jess Clemmons was setting out with The Bandits on a UK tour in support of her new album, the gospel influenced Smoke And Mirrors, Hurricane Harvey struck her hometown of Houston, Texas, causing extensive damage to her mother’s home and necessitating the cancellation of the tour. Five months on and she’s back with us, kicking off the rearranged tour at Fruit in Hull and proving to the doubters (if there were any) that the change of style hasn’t diminished her ability to create some of the finest cast iron ballads and torch songs you’ll ever hear.

Opening the show is up and coming Glaswegian country pop artist Kevin McGuire, who is also on a roll at the moment with the release of 2017’s debut EP Foreign Country leading to performances for the BBC and at the Nashville Meets London Festival.

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Highlights of his set include the new single Late, 3am which is an unusual up tempo break up song written from the perspective of a rejected lover who now unwillingly finds himself in demand again, and the last song of the set, Alright Tonight, which I’d recommend checking out soonest you have the chance. McGuire is one of a growing number of home grown country performers who seem confident enough to produce authentically British country music without the need to slavishly follow US music, although he is clearly influenced by the likes of Rascal Flatts and Sam Hunt.

Jess Clemmons has changed the line up of her band since I saw them last. They’re still bandits of course, but they’re different bandits, better suited to her new sound, on display on the fine new album, Smoke And Mirrors. There are still plenty of high powered country rock grooves of course, she hasn’t gone all wimpy on us all of sudden, and the show kicks off with My Name Is Trouble straight out of our favourites playbook before swinging into love Like That, another favourite and I’m Not Going Home, whose power shows the close connection between both sets of songs old and new.

Vocally she’s in fine form voice is in fine form – she’s as good a country singer as I’ve ever heard live – capable of a wide range of emotional colour plus considerably more out and out charismatic sexiness than one person really ought to possess. It’s not fair really it isn’t.

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The set is a mix of the best of the two albums with highlights including The World’s Still Round, whose brooding verse explodes into some great rock and roll, White Lies which slows things down a little but has a classic broken lives and shattered dreams feel to it, Gone Girl for which Clemmons channels her inner Dolly Parton and Nitty Gritty which has the whole room singing.

By tradition the set includes a couple of covers – on this occasion it’s Mama told Me not To Come and Bonnie Raitt’s Love Sneaking Up which is followed by the outstanding track from Smoke And Mirrors, the gospel anthem of empowerment Sister.

And of course the show ends with some of real favourites – bring the house down rocker Ready Set, the emotionally supercharged Fault Lines and to round it all off Single Tonight.

A fine show from one of our favourite performers and if I get the chance I’ll try to catch another show later in the year. If you get the chance you should too.

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Interview: Jess Clemmons

 
Jess Clemmons first came to the attention of British music fans a couple of years ago with the release of Here We Go Again, her debut album with The Bandits and one of the most exciting country rock albums we’ve heard in recent years. Many of the people who now count themselves fans first heard of her when her version of “Wichita Lineman” was played by DJ Terry Wogan, who afterwards declared it to have been even better than the Glen Campbell original. Praise indeed.

Since then she’s been a regular visitor to the U.K., touring all over the country and winning a large following. Last year her second album, Smoke and Mirrors was released. It was selected as one of the highlights of 2017 by Country Magazine and the lead single “Sister” received extensive airplay from the BBC.

She’s back on tour in the U.K. in February, kicking off at Fruit in Hull on February 6th and if you’re a fan of top notch country music then we’d highly recommend a trip to the north bank to catch the show. We got to talk to Clemmons about music, marriage and the perspicacity of small dogs, and we started by asking about the distinctive change of sound on the material on the new album.

idp: Let me start by congratulating you on Smoke And Mirrors. I’ve been listening to it for a couple of weeks now and it’s an excellent thing. It has a distinctly different sound to Here We Go Again. A little less country rock, a little more pop and gospel. Was this a deliberate decision or did it just happen, like a natural progression?

Jess Clemons: It was absolutely deliberate. The last thing that we ever want to do is to try to recreate something we’ve already done. There’s a kind of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix” it trap and some performers and bands fall right into it. It’s easier but it also means that you don’t grow as an artist and you don’t give the audience something new. Making a big change to your sound involves taking a chance and that’s why we spent a whole year working on the songs for the new album to try to get the best of both worlds – still recognizably the established Jess And The Bandits sound but with plenty of the new in there as well.

Jess And The Bandits By Sam J Bond

idp: Did it feel like a risk?

JC: Well there were certainly lots of times when I was in panic mode because much of this was so different from anything we’d done before but that was mostly before I’d really started living with these songs, sharing them with friends and colleagues. Gradually it came to feel less strange. I would take the old album and choose a song to play at random, and then I’d play one of the new ones and I came to realize that there was a coherence between the songs – a big similarity in the body of work, which is exactly what you want. I wanted to find a way to tie all the songs together because when you’re in a club playing live you don’t want it to sound like you’re performing songs that don’t belong together. So I’m really glad that I went with my gut and that my management team supported me and I decided to take a risk and go for it.

idp: There’s a lot of gospel influence on the album. Is that something that you grew up with? You seem to drop into the groove very easily.

JC: I did grow up singing in the choir and the gospel feel as always been a part of me. It used to hurt that whenever I would get a solo in church I was always given the gospel part and I used to say, “I want to sing the pretty little songs,” but soon I decided that I’d embrace it. When I decided to use the gospel sound on the new album it felt really good because I felt I was getting back touch with the gospel tradition within myself that I had not made use of for a long time. It was like I was going back to my roots and to being a little girl again.

idp: There’s an extensive list of writers who contributed to the album, many of them working with you as co-writers. Do you enjoy collaboration?

JC: I love it and I got to work with some fantastic writers on Smoke and Mirrors. Femke Weidema, who co-wrote “Sister”, is actually the producer of the album and it’s great to work with a producer who is also a songwriter because you can see a song go from it’s very beginnings to being almost complete in just a few hours. Having her as a producer with such gave me such an advantage. And there’s Emily Shackleton as well. She wrote “Every Little Thing”, which was a big hit for Carly Pearce and she’s fantastic to work with.

idp: So you work in Nashville but you live in Houston?

JC: I’m in Houston now and I think I have been here for longer than I’ve ever been but I’ve taken full advantage of the downtime including getting married. I’m Mrs Peavey now. I’m getting used to that but it still feels a bit weird writing it down. I’ll get used to that soon.

idp: I understand that your dog told you that he was the right one.

JC: Unfortunately my puppy died a couple of months ago but he was always very protective about who was around me. He was just a little dog but he was one of those little dogs who think they’re very big dogs. But when Chris was around he would just cuddle right up and I thought that if I hadn’t already figured out that he was the one then maybe I should just pay attention to the dog.

Jess And The Bandits By Sam J Bond
 
idp: I think you were also hit by hurricane Harvey.

JC: Oh yes that was precisely why we had to postpone the U.K. tour last year. It was scheduled and I had been in the U.K. for a month getting ready and everything was all set and then I got the word that my parents home and been severely affected. It was the worst thing I’ve ever witnessed especially from thousands of miles away. I spoke to my mum and she said, “Do what you have to do,” but I could have hear the pain in her voice so I asked, “Do you want me to come home?” and she just burst into tears and said “Yes.” I said, “Right I’m going home, people will understand.” She’s okay now. She’s back in the house and it’s coming together slowly. They don’t have a kitchen yet but they do have a bedroom and a bathroom.

idp: You also issued an old fashioned Christmas CD which has lots of U.K. country performers on it and a song by Gary Quinn. What do you think of the current U.K. country scene?

JC: I’m a big fan. I’ve been touring the U.K. since 2016 and I’ve seen the country scene develop so fast. I love the way a lot of U.K. country artists are using their own heritage to make authentic British country music. It’s not just a question of copying the U.S. music anymore.

idp: Are we expecting a mixture of new material and old when the tour comes round?

JC: Absolutely. It’s good to be starting in Hull because Fruit is an excellent venue and we’re hoping for a good crowd. I’ll try and put in the songs that people really love plus some from the new album and hopefully people will have had time to get to learn some of them and sing along.

idp: I’m sure they will. Have a great tour and we’ll look forward to seeing you in Hull.

Ward Thomas: The Engine Shed, Lincoln – live review

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The Engine Shed, Lincoln
25th May 2017

Credible British country music artists tend to be somewhat thin on the ground but with the arrival on the scene of Hampshire based duo Ward Thomas, (made up of sisters Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas) it certainly looks as though UK fans might have some top drawer home grown talent to cheer about for once. Call it the Nashville effect or the C2C effect, call it the Whispering Bob effect, but British country music is on the up.

Ward Thomas have two excellent albums to their names including Cartwheels, a UK number one album earlier this year, (and not the UK country charts either, the real proper chart), recorded in Nashville with Bobby Blazier and Chris Rodriguez, who have worked with Wynonna Judd and Shania Twain respectively and they have a deal with Sony who appear to be prepared to invest some serious effort in them. It’s pretty clear where Ward Thomas see their trajectory and it’s right up there where Taylor Swift is leading the way.

They certainly write terrific country pop songs, not those huge lumbering epics that some country artists prefer but sweet little songs about love and aspiration and their voices are superb, with just the right amount of heartache and Southern twang without it getting silly. So for my part their show at Lincoln Engine Shed on Thursday 25th May is about finding out whether they can carry it off live and the answer is that they can do it in style.


Extra security checks mean that we only get to see the last couple of songs from openers Wildwood Kin which is a shame because from what little we heard their harmonies were terrific, particularly on their cover of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s Helplessly Hoping. They’ve got a packed schedule of summer festivals on the way and if you get the chance to see them you should definitely take it.

Whatever the little bit of magic is that turns country music into gold Ward Thomas have oodles of it and then some. They take turns at lead vocal and their four piece band are as sharp as you could wish and they switch between the Roadhouse style bluesy swingers and the softer ballad style numbers easily, performing an acoustic section mid show by way of variety.

Highlights include Town Called Ugley which recalls The Mamas & The Papas Creeque Alley, Cartwheels and the new single Material and they round the show off with Push For The Stride, the opening track from 2014’s From Where We Stand, probably the first Ward Thomas song that many of the crowd tonight heard and just about the perfect way to finish. It’s a song full of platitudes, I’ll give you that, but it’s a song that gets even the most curmudgeonly of us, (that would be me), tapping their toes and as we leave we’re all smiling and singing as we scour the pavement for an authentic looking stalk of corn to chew on.

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Ward Thomas: Website | Facebook | Twitter

All words and photography by idp

Jess and the Bandits: Fruit, Hull – live review

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Jess And The Bandits

Fruit, Hull

27th April 2016

It’s only a couple of years Jess Clemmons and her Bandits got together (having met while she was supporting them on tour under their alternative identity, The Overtones), and in that time they’ve had a hit album on the country charts (the excellent Here We Go Again, now available in a new deluxe edition), wowed Sir Terry Wogan (Sir Tel on Louder Than War – that’s another one off the bucket list), while playing live on his show and established a reputation as one of the most exciting live acts on the circuit. The chance to catch up with them at Hull Fruit is too good to pass up and word has clearly got round because when we arrive, plenty early enough for the supports the place is already buzzing.

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Support comes from Hull four piece The Mighty And The Moon, whose country tinged songs recall Damien Rice with a hint of Tom Waits gravel. I particularly like Port In A Storm with its lovely, old fashioned slouchy waltz time but there are lots of other great songs in their set and they have a new album on the way soon.

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Tour support are Luke & Mel are a duo from Cumbria and either Yorkshire or Lancashire (depending who’s asking) but they sound like they just stepped down off the stage at the Grand Old Opry. Highlights of their set include their cover of Little Big Town’s Little White Church and their new single, Bad Habit, which has that authentic Southern rock twang, calling to mind Miranda Lambert.

And so to Jess And The Bandits who get a huge cheer when they take the stage. Although Jess herself may have forgotten (until reminded by the fact checkers at the front), they played a storming set at the Cottingham Festival last year and I think half the crowd from that gig are here tonight. Texas born Jessica Clemmons is a force of nature, never still for a moment, dancing and striking poses, by turns confidential or coquettish, always charming, always commanding the room. At one point there is some chatter at the bar and she lets the culprits know that she’s not happy. It must have been something important because the rest of us can’t take our eyes off her.

Her set is a mixture of roadhouse country, torch songs and blues and she delivers in spades on every song with a style that’s a bit pop, a bit rock, a lot of blues and one hundred percent country. As well as the amazing voice she’s a terrific songwriter and songs like Kiss You Now and Love Like That establish a high standard for the rest of the night but the first really heart stopping moment is a cover of Lee Brice’s I Don’t Dance. Performed as a duet with keyboard player Steven Reid Williams, it’s completely lovely and displays perfectly the breathtaking liquid clarity of her voice.

She follows up with audience favourites My Name Is Trouble and Nitty Gritty, a rallying cry for everyone everywhere who isn’t a size eight. In the chorus she sounds just a little like Alanis Morissette, (which is considered a good thing in our house), and the song, which has made her the country music Meghan Trainor, deserves to be a huge hit. I feel positively guilty for not dancing with everyone else, but I resist the temptation.

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There are also some terrific covers including Bonnie Raitt’s Love Sneaking Up, (which she nails absolutely, leaving no room to doubt her blues credentials), The Dixie Chicks Some Days You Gotta Dance and an extraordinary reworking of Jimmy Webb’s Wichita Linesman, a song she played to considerable effect on the Wogan show, the first time many of us became aware of her work. It’s a brave thing to take on a beloved standard that’s so associated with another artist, but she makes it all her own, with a reading that concentrates on the love song elements of the lyric but also brings out the existentialism of the original.

Highlights? Well they all are really. There’s not a dud in the show, but Stop Me, a great piece of power pop that wouldn’t be out of place on a Disney soundtrack is an album track that I didn’t appreciate fully until I heard it at this show and What If, on which her voice rises from breathless whisper to full on country diva goddess in a matter of a few bars, is a revelation too. Kiss You Now is another that lights the place up, as does Wanted Man, with Clemmons clearly revelling in the chance to let her bad girl run free for a while. Her solo single, Single Tonight, is a similar vein, and it’s a great piece of Shania Twainish sexy country blues. I’m going to name every song on the set list soon. They’re all great.

So there you go – classic country with blues and pop sensibility to spare. I think I’m supposed to find fault with something, it’s traditional, but I’m not going to and if you see that they’re anywhere near you soon make sure you go see them.

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Jess And the Bandits: Website | Facebook | Twitter

Luke And Mel: Website | Facebook | Twitter

The Mighty And The Moon: Website | Facebook | Twitter

All words by idp. and photography by idp

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