Jenn Bostic and Emma Stevens have much in common. Quite apart from the fact that both women are 27 years of age and the most accomplished of singer songwriters, they have also forged a strong emotional connection through each having lost a parent prematurely. And whilst these tragic events have undoubtedly affected their lives, on tonight’s evidence alone neither woman has allowed this experience to define them. But it is perhaps the differences that exist between the Jealous tour’s headliner and principal support which make this pairing all the more perfect.
Jenn Bostic is American. In her own words, she writes and performs emotive piano-driven pop with a touch of country. Emma Stevens, on the other hand, is English. She writes and performs emotive string-driven folk with a touch of pop. Their music is an exquisite blend of subtlety and strength.
Tonight Stevens plays a very nice handful of songs from her début album Enchanted. Alternating between her own ukulele and acoustic guitar and complemented by Sam Whiting’s beautifully understated electric guitar, she sings in a voice that runs along a parallel track somewhere between the convention of Karen Dalton and the quirkiness of Liz Green. Her sound may initially appear to be quintessentially English but with a constant sleight of hand it regularly comes from an altogether different time and place.
‘Give A Little Bit’ skips along with a spring in its step and love in its heart; a delightful solo from Whiting adding to the song’s sheer sense of joy. ‘Sunflower’ may find Stevens dealing with the loss of her mother to cancer, but even in the midst of such sorrow her optimism and love of life shines through. And whilst she may feel that recent single ‘Riptide’ really does need a band to do it proper justice, here Stevens and Whiting manage to harness the song’s intuitive energy and excitement and with this crest its euphoric wave. In her words and music Emma Stevens captures a wide range of emotion from happiness to despair, each diverse element woven together by her big heart, gentle humour and infectious humility.
Jenn Bostic’s voice is bigger than Tennessee. Right from the very opening bars of ‘Change’ you cannot fail to be impressed by its tremendous size as she commands the room with her incredible vocal range, power and versatility. Soul, country, pop, ballads and blues hold no fear nor present any barriers to Bostic’s talent as she and her red hot band – leader Alex Wright on keys, brothers Jake and Sam Rommer on electric and bass guitar and Belinda Webb on drums – lead us across a huge musical landscape.
The tour may take its name from the title of Jenn Bostic’s second album – last year’s Jealous – but her set proves to be the most perfect contrast between that record’s inherent emotional battle of discontent and some of the lighter, poppier material that will ultimately appear on her next full length release. There is also time and space for a gorgeously seductive reading of Bonnie Raitt’s ‘Love Me Like A Man’ in which Bostic somehow manages to convey both sin and virtue in equal measure.
‘Missin’ A Man’, an extremely powerful ‘Give Me Back My Pride’ and the closing ‘Not Yet’ – which packs an almost exultant emotional punch – are three songs that signpost the listener to some of the darker clouds that have hung over Bostic’s life, but it is surely ‘Jealous of the Angels’ that forms the centrepiece of this sadness. Since appropriated by thousands of the bereaved as an unofficial anthem for their loss, it is a song inspired by the death of Bostic’s father in an automobile accident when she was only ten years old. In less capable hands it could be an overly sentimental outpouring of grief yet here it is a genuinely moving tour de force. Accompanying herself on piano and performed in an otherwise complete and rapt silence, Bostic imbues the song’s fundamental suffering with colossal feelings of solace and sanguinity.
And it is this tie that ultimately binds Jenn Bostic and Emma Stevens together. For all of the differences that their musical styles may possess and for all of the sadness that may continue to touch their individual lives, their music is infused with a firm belief in the power of love and deep hope for the future.
The Jealous tour, featuring Jenn Bostic, Emma Stevens, Daisy Chapman and Jack Omer continues tomorrow night (7th December) at the Zanzibar Club in Liverpool before heading to Fruit in Hull (8th December) and finally Norwich Arts Centre (10th December).