This third album from the charismatic young Wiltshire-based singer-songwriter Jess Vincent is a suitably sunny-sounding collection, sporting a dozen positively life-affirming new songs of her own special brand of accessible, tuneful folky charm that demonstrate her ever-maturing outlook on life (and of course, love) and her developing understanding of the human condition as seen through an appreciation of the special qualities of others. Rarely have I heard a more cheering album opener than Shine, this disc’s title track, with its light, rippling banjo and guitar figures ushering in the brightest of vocal performances with a lyric of unchallenged soaring spiritual disposition. Jess’s status as a privileged protegée of Reg Meuross is assured and sealed with his contribution to this opening track, both in its co-writing and its sparkling arrangement and high-gloss production values that extend to the whole record. Reg also had a compositional hand in four other songs on the album (Fall Apart, Wrong Shade Of Blue, Billy Tipton’s Waltz and Run, Señor, Run).
The uniformly classy calibre of Jess’s songwriting is conveyed to perfection by the quality of her voice – a charming warble (and I don’t mean that as an insult) that on some tracks (the pleading Fall Apart, for example) is somewhat reminiscent of early Nanci Griffith, which the presence of a twang guitar nestling in the backing kinda accentuates. The rolling country gait of one standout track, Shackles And Chains, is abundantly charming, much in the manner of Dolly Parton or even perhaps Emmylou or late-McGarrigles, while the lilting New Amsterdam is a tribute to silent movie actress Olive Thomas, who died in mysterious circumstances. The infectious rhythms and chirpy, Kate-Bush-like vocal swoops of Wrong Shade Of Blue rather belie its expression of mixed emotions – all is not entirely sunny here… while the Iris-DeMent-meets-cajun-propelled Run, Señor, Run is a classic tale of admonition. Wind On The Downs is another highlight, being a heartfelt musical adaptation of a poem by Marian Allen, written after her fiancé was killed when his plane was shot down in 1917. The theme of personal bravery continues on into the gentle tattoo of Charley’s Song, which was inspired by that trait in a female officer of Jess’s acquaintance who’s an officer in the army. Personal bravery also is a theme of the gently shuffling Billy Tipton’s Waltz (its enterprising subject being the true story of a 40s/50s jazz pianist who had been born biologically female), which also sports a typically-late-night extended piano coda.
Notwithstanding its purity of execution and lightness of touch, and the glowing, incandescent quality of Jess’s vocal delivery, Jess’s music can be deceptive in that it definitely also has (potentially initially unexpected) hidden depths. These are accentuated by the thoughtful and carefully configured instrumental backings, where the darker tones of cello (Beth Porter) offset the more treble-centred guitars and banjos (Marcel Rose, Reg Meuross, Mike Cosgrave) and the sprightly rhythm section (Pete Willis and Graham Brown). Like its predecessors, but to my mind even better, Shine is a really delicious record, which cannot fail to please.
Review by: David Kidman
Shine is out now via Hatsongs
Order via Amazon