Five-piece band Jess and the Bandits are one of the UK’s leading country acts, with their combination of great chemistry, fantastic live shows and lead singer Jessica Clemmons’ powerhouse vocals winning them fans around the country. The group’s debut album, Here We Go Again, reached number six on the Official Country Chart back in 2015 and they’ve now followed it up with a brand new record, Smoke and Mirrors.
The album opens with current single Not Going Home, an uptempo stomping number in which Jess sings sassily about refusing to give up. It’s a great showcase for her powerful vocals and really sums up the energy of their live shows – I can imagine the crowd having a hugely positive reaction to this at a gig. This sense of fun is also showcased on songs like the soulful Kings Of Summer, empowerment anthem Gone Girl and Start A War and Line Of Fire, both of which display a strong rock influence.
However, this album also proves that the group are more than just a party band. Ballads such as the bittersweet World Still Round, the slinky Kiss Me Quiet and the gentle, lilting Already Written show off the bluesy, smoky tones in Jess’ voice beautifully. Throughout the album the band show off their strengths as songwriters and musicians – I was particularly impressed by Steven Reid Williams’ organ-like keyboards on the gorgeous, soaring Sister and atmospheric Fault Lines (which ends the record on an utterly spine-tingling note), as well as the striking imagery in tracks like White Lies, The Bullet and Game Changer. The band’s harmonies also balance beautifully with Jess’ vocals without one overpowering the other, something which takes serious skills to pull off.
The highlight of the record for me is definitely the title song, a story of small-time life and people trying to keep a brave face on things whilst wishing they could break away from the daily grind. Jess’ voice shines throughout, starting off sweet and rich then building to a powerful belt on the chorus as she shows just what she can do. The storytelling in the lyrics is excellent and I loved the gospel-style backing vocals as well, which pop up throughout the album’s slower songs, giving it a slightly spiritual feel.
Overall this is another great album from Jess and the Bandits. The band continues to go from strength to strength, playing up their assets – not least Jess’ incredible voice – whilst also pushing themselves to explore different styles and genres. They’ve shown why they’re top of the tree when it comes to UK country artists and aren’t afraid to embrace the sheer diversity of the genre. The one thing I would have liked was a few more uptempo numbers, but the ballads are so utterly beautiful that I can’t fault them for wanting to include them all. I can’t wait to see what they do with album number three!
Track listing: 1. I’m Not Going Home 2. Smoke And Mirrors 3. World Still Round 4. White Lies 5. Kings Of Summer 6. Kiss Me Quiet. 7. Gone Girl 8. Sister 9. Start A War 10. The Bullet 11. Already Written 12. Game Changer 13. Line Of Fire 14. Fault Lines Record label: After Midnight Girl Entertainment Release date: 15th September 2017