Situated approximately 24 miles southeast of the minster city of York, the small village of Newbald and its Village Hall certainly punches above its weight in attracting quality acts if tonight’s headliners are anything to go by. With easy access just off the A63 the village lies within close proximity of the historic market town of Beverley whilst the city of Hull offers a larger catchment area just a few miles further away. With this being my first visit to the venue it was very pleasing to find ample parking space whilst the hall itself is a modern building complete with all the necessary facilities one could need after a long drive. However, any thoughts that my 1 hour 30 minute journey might make me one of the longest travellers were spectacularly blown away by the discovery that the audience tonight included those that had travelled from as far afield as Glasgow. Such is the pulling power of tonight’s artist.
Karen Jonas is of course the furthest from home this evening, hailing from Fredericksburg, a town with a population of around 30,000, situated in North Virginia approximately 50 miles south of Washington D.C.. Jonas is here with long-term guitarist Tim Bray and bassist Seth Morrissey on a whistle-stop tour of the UK, taking in 10 dates in just 12 days, of which tonight is the 7th, to promote her latest album, the highly acclaimed ‘The Restless’ that was released earlier this year. Now with five studio albums behind her Jonas has rightfully garnered a reputation of being one of the finest singer songwriter’s of the last 10 years with a broad musical palette that encompasses alt-country/americana, with a dash of folk, a splash of country and a healthy drop of rock ‘n’ roll all wonderfully displayed during the two hours of tonight’s show.
With barely a spare seat to be found, Jonas and her band took to the stage as the clock struck 8.00pm and immediately introduced the congregation to the new album. Opening with ‘Elegantly Wasted’, where the twang of Tim Bray’s guitar intro, reminiscent of the great Duane Eddy, underpins the poetic intimacy and soft delivery of Jonas’ voice as she sings “I’m feeling elegantly waste, like Cinderella in the moonlight, will you still love me in the morning”, and from this very moment she has the audience in the palm of her hand and will gently hold them there for the remainder of the evening. Next, two tracks from her 2020 album ‘The Southwest Sky and Other dreams’ follow in quick procession, firstly ‘Pink Leather Boots’ with its rockabilly riff emphasising the musical prowess on show tonight with Bray’s guitar and Morrissey’s upright bass sparring with each other, you can almost see the sparks fly, while Jonas leads with a sultry swagger and a twinkle in her eye. ‘The Last Cowboy (At The Bowling Alley)’ follows with its lament to a different time long gone, before delving back to ‘The Garden’ the sole offering tonight from the 2016 album ‘Country Songs’ . A cover version of ‘The Band’s’ ‘Evangeline’ is a perfect choice and a fitting tribute to the recently departed Robbie Robertson before part one of tonights proceedings are brought to a close with two numbers from 2018’s release ‘Butter’. Firstly the title track, a tongue-in-cheek take on domestic bliss as Jonas seductively sings “Mamma Cooks with butter, course she does sugar”, before closing the first set with the beautiful ‘Gospel Of The Road”.
After a short break for refreshments during which time many of the audience took the opportunity to chat to Jonas and avail themselves from the merchandise stand it was time for part two to commence and a chance to pay tribute to another recently lost songwriting legend. Gordon Lightfoot was truly one of the finest and Jonas’ rendition of what was probably his most famous song ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ was lovingly delivered with just the right amount of pathos and sagacity that the master himself would surely have approved. Throughout the evening Jonas has a wonderful rapport with the congregation, her stories like many of her songs are laced with a subtle hint of humour, often self-effacing, always warm, and she’s also sharp, quick to pick up on comments from the crowd, responding as if it was part of some rehearsed repertoire.
The second half on the show throws the spotlight more towards the most recent album ‘The Restless’ as in quick succession the trio treat the audience to ‘That’s Not My Dream Couch’ with its gypsy-jazz flavour emphasised by some stunning fretwork from Bray while Jonas teases the audience with her best French accent. Then ‘Lay Me Down’ which sees Jonas reveal her more vulnerable side, her gently strummed acoustic guitar along with the intensity of her vocal delivery leaving the audience spellbound, hardly daring to breathe. ‘Forever’ the last of this triptych of songs from the new album is already becoming something of classic with its lyrical narrative painting such a strong visual imagery you could almost reach out and touch it as Jonas sings “In another time in another life, remember when you were my best friend”, effortlessly drifting between the sweetest of melodies and spoken word. Jonas’ songs often lean towards dreamy romanticism but they are never sentimental, continuously captivating her audience that you could hear a pin drop.
From here it was right back to where it all began with ‘Suicide Sal’, the opening track from Jonas’ debut album from 2014 ‘Oklahoma Lottery’ that recalls the legendary outlaws ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, and highlights Jonas’ skill for delivering a narrative full of raw emotive intrigue that never judges, allowing the listener to be their own jury. Next is another crowd favourite with ‘Mama’s First Rodeo’ before a rousing rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m on Fire’ becomes the third cover of the evening. There’s still time for one more track from the new album with the bittersweet ‘Throw Me To the Wolves’ before the trio bring the second set to a close with a wonderful reworking of Billy Joe Shaver’s ‘Georgia On A Fast Train’. Needless to say there was no way the audience were going to let the evening end just yet and their vociferous calls for an encore were rewarded as Jonas, Bray and Morrissey returned to the stage one last time for a rocking rendition of Don Henley’s ‘The Boys Of Summer’ that sets the seal on a fantastic evening. Let’s hope it’s not too long before they return to these shores as Karen Jonas and her band are the real deal.