Last September, just as Jess Clemmons (QRO interview) was setting out with The Bandits on a U.K. 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 on Tuesday, February 6th, 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.
Highlights of his set include the new single “Late, 3am”, which was 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 homegrown country performers who seem confident enough to produce authentically British country music without the need to slavishly follow U.S. 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 were 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 was 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.
The set was a mix of the best of the two albums with highlights including “The World’s Still Round”, whose brooding verse exploded into some great rock and roll, “White Lies”, which slowed things down a little but has a classic ‘broken lives and shattered dreams’ feel to it, “Gone Girl” for which Clemmons channeled her inner Dolly Parton, and “Nitty Gritty”, which had the whole room singing.
By tradition the set includes a couple of covers – on this occasion it was “Mama Told Me Not To Come” and Bonnie Raitt’s “Love Sneaking Up”, which was 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.