Jessie Kilguss Brings Her Plaintively Jangly, Brilliantly Catchy Tunesmithing to the East Village

by delarue

You might wonder why this blog waited til now to mention the killer twinbill back in mid-July at Hank’s Saloon with Jessie Kilguss and an early but auspiciously dark incarnation of Karla Rose & the Thorns. The answer is that Kilguss, whose best project is her own band, is also in demand as a harmony vocalist. Shortly after that gig, she went on an extended European tour with Freddie Stevenson and the Waterboys. But she’s back, and has a gig at around 8 on Nov 10 at Hifi Bar.

Kilguss is as brilliant a singer as she is a tunesmith. Her speaking voice alone has more liveliness and color in it than most people can evoke singing at full throttle – there’s a rippling undercurrent of unselfconscious joy, as if she’s got an irresistibly funny secret to share. Her singing voice has that same unaffected warmth, with a hint of Americana twang or bluesy poignancy depending on the lyric or the character she’s portraying (a strong and quite successful acting background informs her style). As a songwriter, she resists easy resolutions, deftly building the tension in a phrase until she really needs to bring it in for a landing, with often breathtaking results. Behind her, a tight, purposeful janglerock band plays her pensive, typically midtempo songs.

She opened that set at Hank’s with the catchy but gently shattering title track from her most recent album, Devastate Me, a quiet account of the heartbreak to end all heartbreaks. Guitarist Jason Loughlin imbued I’m Your Prey with some unexpected roar and grit over Rob Heath’s tumbling drums in contrast to Kilguss’ wounded ingenue vocals. Then she brought the lights down with a wistfulness just short of fullscale longing, throughout the catchiest song of the set, Don’t Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight, inspired by both the Alexandra Fuller memoir as well as Kilguss’ rural Massachusetts childhood.

Bassist John Kengla set a hypnotic ambience on the next number, rising from distantly Indian-tinged resonance to bouncy folk-rock. Loughlin’s deep-space quasar leads pulsed through the Anglian folk noir of Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet, then the band mashed up honkytonk and Lou Reed gutter-glam with Tennessee, an unlikely but strangely successful blend. From there they hit a pounding, tense straight-up rock groove with the gloomy Civil War narrative March to the Sea. They stuck with the same beat for the song after that, Loughlin’s crashing, bell-like chords a welcome antidote to the noisy crowd (no surprise, this being Hank’s – people go there to tie one on). After the subdued melancholy of You Didn’t Do Right By Me, they closed with the most epic song of the night, the towering Ten Stories High and its 80s grand guignol. After wrapping up a similarly epic tour, it’s a good bet that Kilguss will be psyched to be back on her own turf, singing her own songs.

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