Home > Reviews > Live Reviews > 21/02/2014 | Jess Hall – The Holywell Music Room, Oxford

21/02/2014 | Jess Hall – The Holywell Music Room, Oxford

Lisa Ward


I’m normally a fan of folk singers whose vocals contain a bit of grit, nevertheless it’s Jess Hall’s flawless diction which carries the night and in a venue like the Holywell it becomes almost angelic. Performing an album in its entirety from start to finish is something which also usually leaves me cold, but for Jess (who’s album is officially launched at the show) it works. No longer does it feel like a lazy approach to performing, but instead it offers a chance to entice the crowd to walk away with the recorded counterpart to the show.

Dearest Heart makes for a fitting start lyrically and the swelling strings which accompany the track fill the venue with harmonies. A more vulnerable number, it captivates the audience lulling them to a complete hush. Later we’re told that Maps was recorded in the wrong key (though it’s delivered in the right one tonight) an indicator perhaps that whilst Jess might seem and sound assured on stage, there’s a fragility to her which translates into the theme of her songs. Duet for example was always intended to have more than one vocal, but illness thwarted the recording process. Instead it’s transformed into a solo number which she performs without backing allowing it to breathe and transform into a more haunting song of longing.

Whilst it’s the a cappella rendition of traditional song Apple which truly highlights Jess’ vocal talent for me it’s closing track of the album, Bookshelves, which is the standout track of the night. It’s a song which manages to walk you in, allowing you to perfectly imagine the books and gates which she describes. As she ends with an older track, Dance The Waltz, it also becomes clear just how much Jess’ vocals have developed in the last few years. Though she might originally hail from Devon, tonight she firmly plants herself in the heart of the Oxford scene as one of its finest products.