The new country sensations stop off in Bristol on their first UK headline tour in support of their debut album, Here We Go Again.

The Louisiana is busy early. There are opening acts tonight, all of whom arrive with a few of their fans in support. However, the star of the night is Jess And The Bandits and the whole venue knows it.

The night kicks off with Acoustic Journey, a three-piece band from Northampton consisting of Andrew Jones and Ben Gurney on guitars and Andy Sammons on Cajon. The short 25-minute set only allows five songs, but it’s clear that these guys can play. A crossover of country and Americana, the bands’ two EPs are represented here with songs about life’s good and bad times. “British Summer Time” tells of the joys of trying to have a BBQ in England in the unpredictable summer and offers some humour to the set. The attentive crowd enjoys the set and are glad they arrived early.

Next up is Darren Hodson, who has previously played in the Jess And The Bandits live band, most recently at Ramblin Man Fair. Darren tells us about his band, The Southern Companion. Tonight, he is touring without his companions as he is there alone, but he doesn’t seem to miss them putting in an excellent set. The six songs include four from their new album, 1000 Days of Rain; an early track “Drive,” which is a beautiful song; and a version of the Jason Isbell track, “Cover Me Up.” He plays a fine set of well written, well-played songs that hold the crowd.

The main support act, The Rising, is up next and on the bill for the whole tour. The Belfast band, a five-piece, are here tonight with just four members and represented by Tristan Harris on vocals, Chris Logan on guitar, Shane Watters on drums, and Peter Flanagan on keys.

The Rising plays American soft rock mixed with country and folk to deliver a set of songs from their new album, Coming Home. “City by the Sea” is a very catchy tune, and then “Break the Chains” offers a more rock vibe. “Dreaming and Scheming” sounds very much like The Goo Goo Dolls, and “Lost and Found” provides a more country rock feel. All songs are well received and the animated guitar work of Chris is fun to watch. Their final song “Still Coming Home to You” sounds like U2 in parts, and is a great end to their set.

Jess And The Bandits have built up quite a following, and the crowd in the near-sold-out venue is keen to see the band. The lineup includes Jessica Clemmons on vocals, Ricci Riccardi on drums, Louis Riccardi on guitar, Dave Troke on bass, and Steven Reid Williams on keys, along with honorary Bandit Matt Park on pedal steel/guitar. The band hit the stage to great applause and go straight into album opener “Ready Set.” It’s a great country rocker and the fans are singing along to every word.

Immediately, “Single Tonight” follows. Jess has fantastic stage presence and has the audience hooked on every word as she introduces an older song, “She Ain’t Me.” The band are tight, as they should be having played together for a few years before they joined forces with Jess. The camaraderie is obvious as they enjoy playing off of each other throughout their set. They are each talented musicians and are all given a chance to shine.

“Love Like That,” a band favourite, ensues with an opportunity for Jess to show off her more emotional tone with the band providing beautiful harmonies. We are treated to a few covers, which the band love to do, the first being Erma Franklins’ “Piece of My Heart.” They cover it well with the crowd choir encouraged to join in.

Jess proceeds to tell the audience about the band having, just two days previously, won a BCMA for Video of the Year for the next song, “My Name Is Trouble,” a firm fan favourite. Following comes the story of how the band got together when Jessica Clemmons (touring as a solo act) was the support act for The Overtones, for whom The Bandits were the backing band.

The band plays “You Can’t Stop Me” followed by the mellow and very personal, “What If.” The song shows another side to Jess’s vocals; her emotion is palpable in every word. She then gives us an inspired ‘countryfied’ version of “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” which was first heard when the band were on the radio with Terry Wogan.

Jess is always smiling and is a wonderful front-woman. She engages the audience, laughs with the band, and obviously enjoys what she is doing. She introduces the next song that tells how it doesn’t matter what your size or colour or creed is; we are all the same. The great new single, “Nitty Gritty,” is as anthemic as it gets and, again, the crowd is singing every word.

Darren Hodson is then invited back on stage to a duet on “If You Can’t Be Mine.” This is a sublime move and it works beautifully. The two voices come together for fantastic harmonies between trading lines. Jess follows singing “Wichita Lineman,” showing how beautiful her voice can be. She is backed just by keys and slide guitar as the crowd listen in rapt silence. The rest of the band joins in halfway through before going into another great cover; this time of “Some Days You Gotta Dance” from The Dixie Chicks.

Sadly, it’s over too soon, as “Wanted Man” rounds off their set. The band leaves the stage to loud, heartfelt applause from the whole crowd who have been treated to a great evening they will be talking about for a long time.

The album Here We Go Again is out now and available from Amazon and iTunes.

Photos by R-O-C-K Photography.

Acoustic Journey
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The Southern Companion
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The Rising
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Jess and the Bandits
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The Louisiana
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