29 Jun 2022
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Jenny Mitchell - Gig Review: Jenny Mitchell @ Kumeu Live, Kumeu - 18/06/2022

18 Jun 2022 // A review by Kev Rowland

Over to Kumeu Arts Centre tonight to catch two Country singers, along with ace photographer Steve Bone who I had not worked with since Dragon in February last year due to both Covid and his schedule getting in the way of things. We both got there early enough to catch up with the ladies and listen to the soundchecks beforehand and it was obvious we were on for a good night. I had not been here previously, but the centre is exactly as the name implies, a place which focuses on the arts with some wonderful prints and paintings for sale, while the music was taking place in a room which had been set up with some simple lighting, curtains and sound with no actual stage. This meant the audience were sat within feet of the musicians, so they would need to be on the top of their game as there was literally nowhere to hide. Run by music lovers they have built up a regular crowd and I am sure I will be back here again soon.

The concept for tonight was that Jenny Mitchell would be playing two sets, with Jamie taking part during the second set. Before Jenny started playing everyone was told that Jenny had today been awarded APRA's Best Country Music song award for Trouble Finds A Girl which she performed with Tami Neilson. The organisers of the gig presented her with a bottle of champagne while there was a loud round of applause from the audience. She started her set with Tug of War, and I was struck yet again that when she is talking, she is light and bubbly, but as soon as she starts to sing, she matures into a seasoned country singer songwriter.

She has a light touch on the guitar, which is the perfect accompaniment for her voice which is emotional, wide and full of colour, and the perfect foil for her succinct and direct lyrics. A friend of mine and I were talking about Jenny’s performance at Auckland Folk Festival last year, and she told me she cried all the way through the set as Jenny had touched her that deeply. I had only previously seen Jenny with other musicians and singers, and she explained that tonight she would be playing songs in the way they were originally written, which is not how they are normally performed. Next up we had Troubadour, and the audience were transfixed, so much so that I started to get concerned that my typing on the laptop would be disturbing people!

Make Peace With Time is somewhat slower, and everyone concentrates deeply on the vocals as she takes us on a journey to a different time and place. She mixes these up so we can hear the stress and strain, the angst, as she moves from delicacy to power, throwing her head away from the microphone as she reaches high. Contrast that to the times when she is so quiet as to be almost inaudible, using contrast to a great extent. Wildfires is the title of her last album, and is much more upbeat with a strong groove, and she is even using a stomp box, providing yet more variety.

If You Were is the love song from the new album and was dedicated to a couple in the audience whose wedding Jenny was supposed to perform at but was unable to after it had to be rescheduled. This is more in the folk area, less country, with strong hints of Joni Mitchell and I can certainly see this being released as a single as it is very powerful indeed. This was followed by a delicate rendition of The Beatles’ Blackbird, and to be honest I much prefer her slightly slowed down and far more delicate version which lifted it to a different level. Ends of the Earth is the story of her grandparents leaving London and coming to New Zealand after seeing a sign saying it was the land of milk and honey, taking the journey which saw them settle in Gore. In many ways this reminds me of Mundy-Turner’s The Transformation of Sarah, which lyrically follows a similar story, and by being sung by a relation of who the story is about makes it that much more real. When I first saw the setlist I was upset to notice that Lucy wasn’t included, but I was also aware that the setlist was likely to change during the performance, so when Jenny started talking about Lucille Ball I knew what was coming next. All her songs are passionate, all of them are powerful, but this is something very special indeed. Packed full of drama and emotion, it contains everything one could wish for from a country song. That was the end of the set, and Jenny took a well-earned break after having her boyfriend, poor Toby, model the denim apron which is part of the merch she had available. Note to all bands, this is how to do it, bring merch in and ensure it is visible and easy to buy! It doesn’t sell if left at home.

She returned with Travelling Bones, and although there was quite a lot of conversation as she started, it soon died, and we were again in total quiet as everyone was entranced by her songs and voice. Again, a personal story, this talks about wanting to set up a home but unable to do so due to needing to move on, and consequently missing her parents’ cups of tea. Tomorrow is another song from the next album, talking about how making changes in her life. This is another delicate number, and due to the personal nature it is so easy to be engaged and invested from the first line of lyrics.

Then it was time for Jamie McDell, whose most recent album was released earlier this year. Recorded in Nashville, this is yet another which has been heavily delayed due to Covid and it was going to be interesting to see what her songs would be like in such an intimate environment. Jenny introduced her by saying she cannot believe that Jamie was going to be her guest as she was a big-time pop star! Jamie was more than a little embarrassed by the introduction, but soon settled down and also started with a very personal song, inspired by her dad. Poor Boy was the first time I had heard her sing apart from in the soundcheck and I was taken by just how much her voice reminds me of a young Stevie Nicks. Although she is still only in her twenties, Jamie received her first gold records a decade ago, and won the Best Pop Album award at 2013’s New Zealand Music Awards.

Her style has changed since those early days, and she is very much deep into Country now, but still with a pop sensibility such as Daddy Come Pick Me Up, another song about her dad, this time about him rescuing her from sticky situations. This is full of lyrics which had the audience chuckling, but there is a serious sentiment behind this. Story of John is about how she used to watch her now husband from afar, but never dare approach him as at the time he was with someone else. Her vocal style is quite different to Jenny, often singing higher and there is less breadth, but the Nicks inflection is a huge part of the overall sound, and that combined with lighter lyrics makes for music which is incredibly inviting.

Jenny then returned to the stage and the two of them performed Mother’s Daughter, a song they wrote together some years back, but they had had very little time to practice, with most of it taking place upstairs while the audience were coming in earlier. Jamie took the lead, with Jenny harmonising, with their voices combining wonderfully, with Jenny also allowed Jamie to sing on her own for large sections of the song so when she came in it had much more impact. The song combines the emotional lyrics and depth of Jenny’s songwriting combined with Jamie’s somewhat lighter nature and together their voices come together to create something which was a real highlight.

Jenny then took the lead on Big Yellow Taxi, and it was obvious the two ladies on the stage were having as much fun as the audience were. The night ended of course with Trouble Finds A Girl; a song packed full of emotion. When I reviewed it last year I said it was a siren call of passion, and that was so true tonight with Jenny pouring all her emotion into it, and Jamie providing wonderful harmonies over the top.

Jenny was not able to get away with that, so she was called back for the new single, Snakes In The Grass, about her sisters. Upbeat, but again with a message, this was the perfect way to end the evening.

It was an incredible night tonight, featuring two different but wonderful singers with amazing material. My gratitude to Kumeu Live for putting on fantastic musicians, check out their Facebook page and also sign up to their mailing list.


Photo Credit: Steve Bone
Jenny Mitchell Full Gallery
Jamie McDell Full Gallery


 

About Jenny Mitchell

Hailing from the deep South of New Zealand, Jenny is a songwriter who blends Country, Folk & Americana into her own captivating style.




Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Jenny Mitchell

Releases

Wildfires
Year: 2018
Type: Album
The Old Oak
Year: 2015
Type: Album

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