Jess & The Bandits – ‘Smoke & Mirrors’

If you are expecting Jess & The Bandits to stand still, then think again. ‘Smoke & Mirrors’ finds lead singer Jess Clemmons in a happy place, having recently found love with photographer Chris Peavey and announcing their engagement earlier this year, and that shines through on this second full length release.

The tracks are permeated with gospel and have a more produced feel than first album ‘Here We Go Again’s’ raw rock Country sound. Because of that, this album runs the risk of losing some fans of the original release, but will appeal to a new audience too with its radio friendly slightly more pop sound. Hopefully fans of the band are in for the duration and want to go on a journey with Jess and her bandits.

It’s evident from the opening track that the writing process must have found Jess, the lead vocalist, the happiest she has ever been and she has said:

“I am so excited about this album. I wanted to make sure that the sound grew and developed. Experimenting a little even. Gospel music is so close to my heart that I knew I needed to bring those elements into this new record”.

Album opener ‘I’m Not Going Home’ couldn’t sum up this approach better!

Jess has battled many changes in her life having to cope with bullying and illness; she has a serious hormone condition Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome which can lead to weight gain, excessive body hair and acne as well as reproductive issues. She shares this condition with Jools Oliver and Victoria Beckham, and is a strong believer in loving yourself and recently became the first Country star to be a brand ambassador for a UK High Street, store teaming up with Evans. The new album really feels as if Jess is in a very good place at the moment and believes she can achieve anything. It’s hard to avoid the uplifting feel of songs like ‘Gone Girl’ when seen in that context.

This album has been “a labour of love” for Jess who wants to take her fans on a journey with the band. It will be interesting to see if the process of trying to keep a raw Country edge and introducing a Gospel feel is a successful one but in Jess the band have a lead singer who is keen to push into different areas of her genre. The band already released the very likeable ‘Kings of Summer’ which is an instant crowd pleaser and are set to release ‘I’m Not Going Home’, which has more of the Country feel about it. This song is about those that are able to keep pushing on despite rejection and feels very personal as it sums up the way that the band approach their music. 

After a summer of festival appearances and an Autumn UK tour, the album release keeps the band moving on and pushes the boundaries of their appeal. It is testament to their beautiful harmonies and is certainly a showcase for Jess’s powerful voice, even proving that she can sing ballads and blues just as easily as the more upbeat. It is perhaps here that I would have liked a few more toe tappers but it is easy to see the new tracks fitting into live performance alongside tracks from the bands 2015 release to offer a very balanced collection of music. In fact on shuffle with the first album the slower tracks work really well. Not only has Jess stretched herself on this album but the rest of the band have pushed themselves to new heights too with their faultless harmonies and musicianship throughout. 

2015s ‘Here We Go Again’ reached number six on the official Country chart and so I’m sure her army of fans will flock to the new release. With an album such as ‘Smoke & Mirrors’ it will be interesting to see the direction future releases might take the band and I hope it isn’t too far away from the Country genre as they are such wonderful flag bearers for it. 

‘Smoke &  Mirrors’ is out now and can be downloaded and streamed here.

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