The first time that I heard Jess Vincent and her wonderful songwriting, it instantly reminded me of Kate Bush OD’d on helium – but, like the very special artist and musician that she is, her exhilarating performance has a habit of netting the appreciative listeners like there was no tomorrow. This is the Wiltshire singer and acoustic guitarist’s third album, and it’s a fabulous, life-affirming collection of her penetrating viewpoint and her mature look on the world. Her maddenly-memorable and catchy craft battens down the door and demands to be noticed – and the good news is that she opened for The Spooky Men’s Chorale in their summer concert hall and festivals tour around Britain, which is praise indeed.
Shine and Jess’s unique soaring, swooping sound has got me deliciously hooked; I can’t stop playing it, the CD is constantly loud on in the car and what I laughingly call my office, and I wake up in the dead of night humming one of her compulsive melodies – whoever coined the buzz-word “earworm” must be thinking of her.
Reg Meuross, Jess’s partner and the album’s producer, himself a stunning songwriter and renowned folk musician in his own right, describes her as: “one of the most exciting singer songwriters I’ve heard in years, with a magical voice and exceptional and truly innovative songwriting talent” – firm plaudits indeed from the god of song-making. And Reg, who releases Shine on his own label, must take the credit for skillfully blending an array of empathetic musicians, including himself on vocals and a quartet of instruments; his familiar banjo is there, lending light and shade to Jess’s lucious work. Special mention must go to Beth Porter on ‘cello and multi-instrumentalist Mike Cosgrave, whose accordion was made to soothe all troubles.
Reg and Jess penned five of the songs, including the good-time singalong opener ‘Shine’, which is being released as a single, and the closing ‘Billy Tipton’s Waltz’; Billy, born biologically as a female, was a 1950s jazz pianist who lived his life as a man, jamming with Duke Ellington, drinking with Frank Sinatra and becoming a well-known musician – ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ was one of his successes. Jess composes the melody to ‘Wind On The Downs’, based on a tragically beautiful poem by Marian Allen, written after her fiancé, a World War One fighter pilot, was shot down in 1917. Jess homes in on the real-life stories; she wrote ‘Charley’s Song’ as a morale booster and as a respectful tribute to her army officer friend and for her enduring bravery. In ‘New Amsterdam’, Jess explores the fascinating tale of Hollywood silent movie actress Olive Thomas who was mysteriously poisoned by a glass of wine; her ghost is said to haunt the New Amsterdam theatre in New York to this day. In contrast, Jess bares her vulnerable soul with the painfully frank ‘Shackles And Chains’, and duets with herself in startling sky-high spot-on harmonies that cuts the mustard to a brilliant degree. Shine is Jess’s equivalent of satisfying, nourishing mental soul food – and she’s got me lining up for more and more. Bon appetit!
Mick Tems, FolkWales Online Magazine