Jess Knights on CBC Radio

SXM North Americana June 21 · Jess Knights tells Sarah Burke about her new album "Best Kind of Light."

Review – Jess Knights Album "Best Kind of LIght" By Cory Stumpf on June 29, 2020

Review - Jess Knights | Canadian Beats Media

Review – Jess Knights

Album: Best Kind of Light
Release Date: June 19, 2020
Genre: soul-roots-blues

Here’s an artist that is relatively new to the national spotlight. Until now, Jess Knights’ recorded work has consisted of one EP and a handful of sneak-peak singles that hinted gloriously at what was next to come. Now here it is, her first full-length release, and if you haven’t done so already you’d best start listening to what the Calgary singer has to offer. As her first full-length, Best Kind of Light, with its soul-roots emphasis and a slight touch of blues, is one very strong debut.

On this album, Jess Knights brings her vocal A-game. Just witness the passion she instills in all those elevated notes she hits during “Leave Me for the Last Time,” or the upbeat confidence she brings to match the piano-based melody and fiery guitar in “Cover Your Eyes.” These traits are replicated throughout the album, coming fully to an apex with the infectiously energetic chorus of “Baby Won’t You Stay.” On the flipside, when slowing things down during songs like “Try It On” or the album’s title track, the earnest tone and ever-so-subtle rasp that occasionally seeps into her voice are at times akin to the likes of Madison Violet’s Brenley MacEachern.

Lyrically, Jess Knights is at her best when she champions herself. Emblematic of that are the lyrics of “Try a Little Harder,” accentuated by sultry guitar solos and bluesy rhythms that echo her tenor when she sings such phrases as: “My name isn’t baby, honey, sugar, or girl. I’m a force to be reckoned with and a woman of this world.” My own personal favourite is actually the album’s bonus track, “This Is 30,” though perhaps that’s because I’m of a general age and lifestyle that I can relate to its words on multiple levels. In any case, it’s a fun way to end the album, and can basically be summed up as her saying who cares what everyone else does or what they think; she’ll do what’s right for her. Given the quality of what she’s created with Best Kind of Light, Jess Knights should be damn proud of who she is.

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Jess Knights takes a stance, studies heartbreak on Best Kind of Light Author of the article:Eric Volmers Publishing date:Jun 17, 2020

Jess Knights takes a stance, studies heartbreak on Best Kind of Light | Calgary Herald

Jess Knights takes a stance, studies heartbreak on Best Kind of Light

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Jess Knights calls it her Tinder song.

On Try A Little Harder, the soul and blues singer rebuffs prospective suitors who use lazy lines and make lazy assumptions about who or what deserves her attention. Backed by a crawling blues groove and punctuated by growling slashes of distorted guitar, Knights puts them in their place with sultry power. “Don’t be fooled by my smile,” she sings “I’m the Queen of the Lions, I know how to bite.”

It’s defiant, often funny and full of attitude; not so much in the “that-man-done-me-wrong” school of songwriting as “don’t-even-try-me-if-you’re-not-up-to-it.”

“I wrote it in response to the lack of effort on some of these dating apps,” says Knights, in an interview with Postmedia from her Calgary home. “They don’t require a lot from people to make connections. There’s a lot of ‘Hey baby’ and ‘Hey girl.’ It’s like: ‘No, no, no. I’m not your baby. I’m not your girl. You don’t even know my name yet. Try a little harder, man. I don’t have time for this unless you’re going to try.’ ”

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Knights plays the part so convincingly that it would be understandable if she chose to ride this cheeky blues vibe for an entire album. But the songs on Best Kind of Light build on the significant promise of her 2018 debut EP Won’t Wait, revealing her to be as comfortable with soulful balladry, explosive R&B, retro-soul and well-crafted pop as she is exploring various shades of the blues.

Recorded in Toronto with producer Joshua Van Tassel, her debut full-length is an assured collection that veers from rousing funk anthems such as Baby, Won’t You Stay, to stately ballads such as Halfway, to the AOR pop of Young and Foolish and soulful-folk drama of the title track. A classically trained singer, Knights’ powers as a vocal stylist are matched by a supple studio band and perceptive production by Van Tassel that gives the record a polished, old-school sheen without sacrificing urgency and energy.

“I really wanted to connect back to the music that I love most, which is really rooted in the deep-soul traditions of Donny Hathaway and Sam Cooke and Sharon Jones,” she says. “Everywhere on the album, I think Josh did a really good job of bringing that feeling forward in all the songs. When I expressed to him that this was the music that I loved and this was the music that I feel, he really took that to heart. It was like ‘OK, we’ll find a way to make this as soulful as it can be and tap into that expression that means so much to me and so many others.”

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While the album jumps in and out of genres, it also displays a variety of tones within Knights’ delivery and lyrics. Both the aforementioned Try A Little Harder and the wry and “sadly very autobiographical” This is 30 are cheerfully irreverent, while the jazzy Try it On and sultry Curtain Call are fragile, yearning and seductive.

“A recurring theme on the album and Won’t Wait as well is that age-old story of heartbreak,” Knights says with a laugh. “I think that’s sprinkled throughout. Best Kind of Light is about leaving a relationship with grace and integrity and choosing to look back on things and your ex-relationship in the best kind of way. Leave Me For the Last Time, it’s like ‘You’re leaving me for the last time, and I’m going to be OK.’ ”

Still, two of the album’s most powerful songs have Knights looking outside of herself for inspiration. The stinging blues of Cover Your Eyes covers everything from the sins of the clergy to homelessness and poverty in its exploration of mankind’s unyielding ability to look the other way. One Last Shot, with its rolling piano and rapid-fire delivery, is a melodic and surprisingly joyful take-to-the-streets anthem that seems particularly timely given the political unrest around the world.

“I definitely write from a personal and emotional place about heartbreak and love songs,” she says. “But I also write from a place of observation and taking a stance on things.”

One Last Shot, she says, is a protest song and one that, in hindsight, she wishes she had released as a single. Knights has been deeply moved by the Black Lives Matter movement these past few weeks and all proceeds from the sale of Best Kind of Light on June 19 and 20 will be donated to the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre.

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“It’s about fighting for what you believe in, standing up for what’s right,” she says. “It’s about the thrill of the protest and the march and the victory.”

Knights studied opera and classical singing as a child before spending some formative years travelling the world. A former manager of education and public programming at the National Music Centre, Knights also spent a decade learning her chops in Calgary’s rough-and-ready, do-or-die blues scene.

As with many musicians releasing albums in the past few months, her plans to tour and promote Best Kind of Light, which were to include dates throughout Western Canada and Ontario, were derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. She will perform on Facebook Live on June 20 at 7 p.m.

“I think I grieved about things, and now I’m like ‘OK, what are you going to do about it? What are you going to look forward to?’ ” she says. “Because wallowing doesn’t really serve anybody and it’s not a great use of our energy.”

So the planning continues, even if it’s all tentative.

“I really do want to take the show on the road,” she says. “My band is wonderful and keen. The band I have here in Calgary are open to touring Western Canada and the band that I recorded with in Toronto said ‘Hey, when you’re out here, give us a call.’ So it’s nice to have bands both in Eastern and Western Canada. So, yeah, the end goal is to take it on the road.”

Best Kind of Light will be released June 19 on all streaming services. Proceeds from sales on June 19 and 20 will go to the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre. Jess Knights: Live from the Speakeasy will be live-streamed on Facebook Live on June 20 at 7 p.m. with her full band.

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Exclusive Album Premiere: Hear Calgary roots ‘n’ soul artist Jess Knights’ full-length debut Best Kind of Light June 18, 2020 by Mike Bell

Exclusive Album Premiere: Hear Calgary roots ‘n’ soul artist Jess Knights’ full-length debut Best Kind of Light – TheYYSCENE
Music

Exclusive Album Premiere: Hear Calgary roots ‘n’ soul artist Jess Knights’ full-length debut Best Kind of Light

Anyone who heard Won’t Wait, the 2018 EP from veteran Calgary scene singer Jess Knights, likely couldn’t.

Wait, that is.

Couldn’t wait to hear what she would do next, how she would follow-up that gem of a five-track selection of twang-infused, green-eyed soul — both retro and refreshing, it showcased her sensually coquettish, powerfully empowered pipes and the heart-scarred songs they gave life to.

Well, the wait is over.

And worth it.

On Friday, June 19, Knights will release her full-length debut Best Kind of Light. It is a jaw-dropper.

For the 11 originals outing, Knights headed to Toronto to work with producer Joshua Van Tassel and a group of all-pro players.

The result is all the best bits of roots, R&B, pop, jazz and soul all polished up beautifully and packaged in the words and beguiling voice of an artist who owns it all and with the kind of confidence you’d expect from someone who’s not only ready but begging for the big time.

And while the official date she’ll drop it into the world’s awaiting ears is Friday, she has given theYYSCENE the distinct and enormous honour of premiering it in its entirety a day early.

So don’t wait. Give it a listen. And get ready for what comes next.

(Photo courtesy Sebastian Buzzalino.)

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Calgary artist Jess Knights ain’t fakin’ it on stunning soul, pop, blues ‘n’ roots debut Best Kind of Light July 17, 2020 by Mike Bell

Calgary artist Jess Knights ain’t fakin’ it on stunning soul, pop, blues ‘n’ roots debut Best Kind of Light – TheYYSCENE
Music

Calgary artist Jess Knights ain’t fakin’ it on stunning soul, pop, blues ‘n’ roots debut Best Kind of Light

She uses the term frequently: “imposter syndrome.”

It’s one that she dropped often both during this most recent conversation and a previous one to promote her glorious 2018 debut EP Won’t Wait.

Perhaps she should consider retiring it permanently.

Because there is nothing about Jess Knights’ new album that would even remotely hint at the fact the Calgary artist is an imposter or a pretender or a faker or any other word the thesaurus site wants to spit out when a lazy writer is seeking a synonym.

Best Kind of Light is testament, proof positive that the green-eyed, soul-pop ’n’ roots singer-songwriter is the real GD deal — one who can play in the big leagues with some of this country’s best musicians and not only hold her own but own it all.

“I certainly feel like I’ve elevated myself as an artist,” Knights understates, while sipping a pint in Inner City Brewing’s 11th Ave. taproom. “(But) this imposter syndrome, if it keeps me grounded and humbled, then I’ll stay that way.”

In every other way, she carries herself like a diva.

Best Kind of Light is a honey-dripping, heart-popper, so infused with life and love and soul and sweat and sex that it requires an ab workout prior and a shared cigarette after.

Thankfully, Knights takes the thinly veiled metaphor as the compliment it’s meant.

She laughs. “My old producer when we would make music, he’d say, ‘OK, but how do you fuck it? Is this song really aggressive and in your face or is this song really smooth — and I love that idea of: ‘OK, how do you fuck to this song?’ ”

Recorded last August in Toronto with producer Josh Van Tassel — whom had been recommended to her by friend Donovan Woods, who also co-wrote one of the 11 all originals on the record — and a handful of Eastern-based strummers, thumpers, pumpers and twangers Van Tassel handpicked, it is an album that (note: self-loathing Calgarian comment upcoming) could have been made in this city, but sounds as if and benefits from the fact it wasn’t.

“I’m a huge advocate for Calgary and the arts community and our musicians and players. (But) I did a lot of research and there was a sound that I really wanted to achieve.”

With Van Tassel at the helm and his musical menagerie in place, she saw, after a brief meeting with them a few months prior, that they were onboard and could deliver what she was looking for.

“Everything just unfolded so quickly that I was like, ‘If things are rolling out this easily then I have to go for it.’ And it was very fluid and very easy. So I don’t know that it was a deliberate thing to go outside of Calgary, but when I heard the sound that I wanted I knew that I had to go.”

That sound, when heard in its entirety, the way it’s meant to be, is one that’s incredibly unique, remarkably well-defined, and is that of “vintage soul hearkening back to Donny Hathaway, Sam Cooke” but with her bluesy, rootsy twist, and a set of pipes that can belt it out or pull back and send out all of the shivers.

And, again, she sounds so confident and assured in the bed that she and the players masterfully messed up together that you realize nobody could fake it that well.

She admits that she has “grown up substantially” since that initial EP, and is now comfortable being the “boss of her career and sound” and, if appears, her life in general.

Best Kind of Light showcases material culled from a period in Knights’ tale that featured the breakup of a long-term relationship and the Gorilla Glue-ing back together of all of those shattered pieces that you’re invariably left with when you’re now alone. It’s powerful, it’s empowering, and the artist is both of those things — even if she’s wont to admit it.

“If you ask me if these songs are personal I’ll deny it,” she says with a smile, “but this archives a chapter of my life in a lot of ways.”

As for how she chose to share those chapters, it’s done under the umbrella of “soul roots blues,” but dances into other wonderful territory — from the ragtime piano-based One Last Shot and dirty and gritty skronker Try A Little Harder (which she calls her “Tinder song”) to the countrified Candi Staton-esque title track and the beautifully, poppy Halfway that sounds like an Eliza Doolittle outtake.

“It’s very whitebread reggae,” she says of the song with a laugh. “Like, I don’t have sick flow.”

Which actually brings up a subject that’s a little touchier than songs to fuck to — that of race and cultural appropriation.

But the fact that Knights’ sound is very much steeped in music considered the realm of Black artists (blues, soul, R&B) doesn’t even come close to meeting the threshold of exploitative.

While she’s aware of how race relations are front and centre in the social discourse right now — proceeds from the first two days Best Kind of Light was on sale went to anti-racism charities in the city — her love of the music is real and her own music is a celebration of that.

“I would hope that I would never be scrutinized for cultural appropriation,” she says. “I truly feel like Black artists raised me musically. 

“I was singing Aretha before I heard anything else. And Etta James. Later in life, I fell in love with Sam Cooke and Donny Hathaway. I would hope that it would be seen as the ultimate respect …”

She pauses. “Hopefully no one is a dick about it.” 

She laughs again. “I do it because I love it, I love the sound.”

And trust us. She definitely ain’t no imposter.

(Photos courtesy Sebastian Buzzalino.)

Jess Knights Best Kind of Light is available now.

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