Jo Kelsey and Niels Bakx
Waiting for Rain
(Live at The Park Studios)
Waiting for Rain (Live at The Park Studios) is available at:
8th November, 2015
The E.P. Growing Up is available shortly
THIS week is certainly showing just how diverse music can really be…
Yesterday saw me assessing a legendary U.S. producer and Jazz artist before going onto a young British songwriter. Today I get to tackle two artists who I am very familiar with. I know Niels Bakx as a member of London band Los and the Deadlines. Having reviewed the band a number of times, I am familiar with his guitar chops and songwriting prowess. The music Niels plays with Jo is quite different from his Los’ work and is among the most refreshing and impressive I have heard. Before I introduce the duo to you I wanted to talk about London duos and the challenge of new music. It may seem like an odd subject to raise but London duos are cropping up thick and fast. From the likes of Ivy & Gold and Them and Us through to Gypsyfingers and Greenfield and Conder, there is a superb mix available. The duos I have mentioned are all boy-girl duos and there is a great mix of music among them. I am not sure what it is but I find that the boy-girl duos are much more natural and assured. When documenting love and relations, their music has that extra relevance and conviction. It raises an interesting point, but I love the range of duos coming through the capital at the moment. I know Niels runs a live music night in London, so he has plenty of duo choices should he need them. The reason I raise the issue of duos is because it is that balance between the solo artist and the band. Being a solo artist is a hard job to carry whereas the band market is quite saturated and demanding. The duos fascinate me because it gives the world a chance to see how two people interact and work with one another. In bands there is usually the frontman/woman and the other musicians are in the background. The duo formation is music’s purest and most interesting formation because you get something both personal and collaborative at the same time. London seems to be showcasing some of the U.K.’s finest duos, ranging from Electro.-Trance and Pop through to Folk and Rock. Before I continue with my points let’s introduce Jo Kelsey and Niels Bakx:
“Jo Kelsey and Niels Bakx have been playing music together since 2011 and started writing songs as a duo in 2013. Their sound is a modern mixture of acoustic blues-rock with folk and psychedelic influences. Lyrics that deal with social commentary as well as exploring the darker side of the human mind float over hypnotic guitar parts that draw you into a different world.”
Birmingham-born Jo Kelsey started making music at a young age, playing piano and singing. With inspirations ranging from Etta James to Led Zeppelin and her classical training Jo creates a unique blend of soulful vocals, operatic outbursts and rock attitude.
After moving to London to pursue her passion for music further Jo worked with a wide range of artists and projects. She also sang on many vocal sessions and took every opportunity to play and perform.
After a couple of years in London Jo increasingly felt the need to get her own original music out there. This led her to start ambitious rock/metal band Kelsea. With Kelsea she brought together her varied music tastes to create a unique hard-rock sound that incorporated acoustic guitar and a soulful backing vocal section as main features. The band eventually split, but their sound can still be heard on a demo called ‘The Hidden Tapes’ (available on Soundcloud).
In 2013 Jo recorded an EP with acoustic arrangements of some of the Kelsea songs. This EP, titled ‘Matchbox’, was released at the start of 2014 and is available on Bandcamp.
Not willing to back down from creating her own music Jo continued working with former Kelsea acoustic guitarist Niels Bakx. Together they went down the path The Beatles once walked in Germany, playing regular residencies in pubs and bars across London, honing their performance and writing skills playing old and new cover repertoire. Behind the scenes they started writing new material, opting for a new, more acoustic based direction. The result is a mixture of blues, rock and folk that gives a respectful nod to Jo and Niels’ influences whilst also incorporating a more modern sound.
In the spring of 2014 they went into the studio to record their first 5-track EP ‘Lie To Me’ with producer Jay Stapley (Roger Waters, Mike Oldfield), the EP was mastered by Pink Floyd’s twice Grammy nominated engineer Andy Jackson. Jo and Niels were joined by Rotem Haguel and Jamie Murray on bass and drums respectively to complete the band. First single ‘We All Fall Down’ was released on October 16th followed by the EP on November 5th.
Expect a raw, acoustic blues sound with the energy of a rock-band and the occasional psychedelic moments. Lyrical themes that deal with the darker parts of your mind as well as some social commentary on modern life. Songs that seek to combine the intimacy of folk and singer-songwriter music with the energy and groove of blues-rock.”
From reviewing so many acts I know how tough the music industry can really be. I know people who have set up labels and venues; those that are starting out and some who are already established. When entering music it is always a challenge and gamble as to whether an act will survive and how easy their careers will be. I am always heartbroken seeing great musicians struggle but I guess that is the issue with modern music. There are so many new musicians coming through, the challenge of defining yourself above your peers is certainly tricky. You need determination and a unique sound in addition to some good contacts and a hard work ethic. When it comes to Jo Kesley and Niels Bakx the duo have a lot of advantages already. Niels is part of the stunning London band Los and the Deadlines, whilst Jo has released E.P.s already. Both reside in the capital and have a tireless and committed passion to music. Being experienced and skilled musicians, the duo blend together superbly. It is not just their intuition and talents that make the music so special. The connection and interplay are exceptional, which translates into their music. With Jo up front on vocals and Niels on guitar, the Blues-Rock/Folk stylings showcase Niels’ guitar talents and Jo’s stunning vocals. Jo’s gorgeous and multifarious voice- in addition to her unique and dark lyrical undertones- is a perfect suitor to Niels’ exceptional guitar work. The E.P. Growing Up should be snapped up and investigated as it shows the duo at the peak of their powers. Both studied and exceptional musicians, the way they combine and the range of subjects they cover distinguishes them from other duos out there. That is quite important in the modern music scene. You would be hard-pushed to hear any other act similar, so for that reason, it is well worth spending some time with Growing Up.
Having been familiar with the duo’s work for a while it is worth looking back and see how far they have come. It is worth investigating Matchbox and Lie to Me. Matchbox was released in March 2014 and was one of the first releases to feature the duo. Free is a lead-off song with twanging and loose acoustic strings. Reminding me of Led Zeppelin III’s best moments, the introduction leads to a busy and fast vocal from Jo. With some superb backing vocals, the song looks at terrified themes and anxieties. Lyrics such as “Scream, I’m falling, Hide, can’t catch me/I’m running out of air/Can’t scratch the surface/Can’t find the purpose” put the listener into the song and the urgency with which the lyrics are delivered is gripping. Niels’ stop-start/quiet-loud guitar dynamics perfectly support the foreground. Jo’s voice is filled with urgency and desperation, and juxtaposed against the Soul-like backing, creates a song filled with drama and tension.
The title track sees Jo on piano and boasts an emotive and passion vocal. Words such as “These empty streets, never stop to question/How long we sleep, cos we’re never awake/You watched me leave, never stop to listen/Last time your words, scream tears on my face” look at relations and personal heartaches; backed by a wonderfully sincere and beautiful vocal. This track is more of a Jo Kesley solo effort- Niels is producing but the focus is on Jo- and it shows just how fervent and talented she is.
Monkee Feet is one of the more collaborative musical endeavours and has another rich and acoustic-led introduction. When arriving at the microphone, the words again are quite tormented and anxious. Boasting one of the E.P.’s most captivating vocal performances, the duo combine superbly. Niels puts in one of his best performances with strings that rush and race- with a Flamenco sound at times- and the song benefits from quite a live-sounding and sparse feel.
Lie to Me arrived at the end of last year and saw Jo and Niels joined by Rotem Haguel (Niels’ Los and the Deadlines cohort) and Jamie Murray. The E.P. showcases five tracks of beauty and passion and this is kicked off with Bureaucracy. Sounding harder and heavier than their previous E.P., it is a very Zeppelin-esque introduction that crunches and presses. Jo puts her voice into Soul and Swing territory and is smokier and more sensual than before. Letting her tones sound less rushed, she elongates and teases words. Packing that punch and clout of the predecessor, the song sees Jo at her more determined and scintillating. Niels and Rotem are a natural combination and provide some fantastic guitar and percussion support. More Rock-tinged than Matchbox; Lie to Me is a great lead-off.
We All Fall Down sees teasing and delicate strings welcome the song in. Again showing how much they have developed, the song sounds more insistent, urgent and nuanced than previous work. Jo offers another entrancing and gorgeous vocal and memorable lyric. The combinations of guitar, vocal and percussion is wonderful and the entire song brims with confidence and astuteness. One of the E.P.’s most catchy and exceptional moments, it shows just how tight the music really is.
I Won’t Go is a gentle and pastoral song that shows a softer and more sensitive side. Jo’s voice aches and yearns as she looks in romantic territory. Tired of running and hiding she is looking for peace and contentment. The guitar is supportive and emotive but never encroaches on the vocal in any way. You always are drawn into that beautiful and central voice that is awash with passion and beauty. A fitting finale it shows a great step for Jo and Niels. Matchbox put more focus on Jo in some songs; here the proceedings seem more collaborative and united. Niels comes more into his own as a guitarist and that Zeppelin-esque sound really works well. Jo sounds more rounded as a lyricists and vocalist and she seems more confident and comfortable here.
Down to the River (from Growing Up) is another step forward for Jo and Niels. With every release their sound more assured and accomplished and their latest E.P. is their finest. Down to the River sees the duo unite perfectly to create a song that stays in the mind long after it has finished. Whereas previous releases have been studio-created, the live-set atmosphere brings richness and atmosphere to the performances. It is great seeing the music being performed and the emotions that go into it. Stepping up a gear the music sounds even more assured and committed than on earlier releases. The natural rate of progressions means the duo will not only be making music for years to come; it will draw in new fans and keep existing ones excited and satisfied.
Waiting for Rain begins with a gorgeous and melodic acoustic guitar parable that manages to provoke imaginative and descriptive scenes. Your mind gets lost in the tranquility and grace of the strings; it gives the song an instant sense of occasion and makes the song dramatic and beautiful from the earliest moments. Leading in Jo’s vocal, Niels’ guitar is tear-stained and stoic; able to create a hypnotic rhythm that ensures every listener is going to be affected and seduced. When Jo’s vocal begins her rich and emotional tones come straight to the fore. “Teardrops fall to the ground” it is said, the emotion and sadness coming through in that vocal. It seems like the song comes from a personal place as it sees a young woman not wanting to reveal too much or have people see her vulnerable side. Maybe over-interpreting the song, but it looks as though our heroine has been going through a hard time and wants to hide away. Maybe waiting for the rain to wash dark elements and doubting voices away, there are definite scars and raw emotions on the line. The vocal begins very reverently and composed; at each stage the words are carefully projected and delineated with the utmost attention to detail and emotional resonance. The guitar acts as a comforting hand on the shoulder and never becomes too rushed or overly-pressing. Adding to the mood and creating something tender and serene, Niels lets his strings blend with Jo to create a song filled with beauty. We get one of Jo’s most immediate and impressive vocal performances and see is completely committed to the subject matter. When hearing her sing, you get images of Blues and Jazz greats like Billie Holiday who could make tormented and pained words sound ethereal and unforgettable. Jo’s tones sound like no other and it is that originality and classic quality that makes the words stand out. I have mentioned Led Zeppelin before and it is quite apt here. The strings have that acoustic inventiveness of Led Zeppelin III and it when combined with percussion, you get some familiar blends. I know Niels is a fan of the band and brings that influence in without ever compromising his unique talent and identity. The gentleness and peace of percussion creates a heady blend that gives the vocal an extra layer. With Indian/Asian-sounding vibes, the duo is supported by Rotem Haguel (bass) and Jamie Murray (percussion). Also included is Leslie Phillips on backing vocals and together there is a fantastic and multicoloured sound coming through. Jo remains firm and concentrated throughout as she looks at hard scenes and inner-reflection. After the mid-way point the song steps up a gear and accelerates. The guitar goes into a Flamenco fan and rushes with colour and passion. It stops and starts creating tension and unexpectedness. The percussion patters and rushes too, and when combined with a guiding and melodic bass, you get a bursting and exciting composition. The composition itself not only augments the lyrics and vocal but creates an urgency that gives the song a much-needed rush of blood. Jo elongates her voice and the word “I” is stretched and contorted like a pained mantra. It is at this moment where the most wracked and affected delivery comes in. Our heroine seems captivated by the mood and lets her voice wail and pervade without ever sounding forced or jarring. It is that blend of beauty and emotion that makes her voice so impressive and nuanced. Letting the wordlessness continue for a little, the song conjures images of rainfall and weather-battered pain. The ‘band’ combines tightly to keep the momentum firm and manage to create a composition rich with life, story and suppleness. That live environment makes the song sound quite bare and raw which definitely is fitting of the subject. The words and utterances are not processed or polished and it means the lyrics really stand out. Our heroine seems to be lonely and looking for salvation in a sense. The song is a testament of a young woman who has seen better days and is seeking something better and fulfilling. Ensuring the lyrics offer some redemption and hope you are always campaigning for our heroine and never feel a lack of sympathy. By the closing moments that chorus is reintroduced and emphasised. Our heroine is waiting for the rain to “wash you away again” and you wonder who is being documented. Perhaps a former lover or old friend, it seems there is some history and a need for closure. Always feeling heartbroken and anxious, you begin to wonder what events have unfolded and the history behind the song. Waiting for Rain is another exceptional song from Jo Kesley and Niels Bakx.
A fascinating glimpse into Growing Up and you hear a musical evolution and a mature song. Jo has come into her own as a singer and writer and sounds at her most stunning here. Filled with soul and beauty, you cannot help but to be drawn into her voice. Her lyrics look at personal pains but have a universality to them which means listeners can relate and appreciate. Niels unleashes one of his most innovative and impactful guitar codas. Adding so much colour, weight and conviction to the song, it is a wonderful combination that gives the song such a degree of nuance and impression. After hearing the song several times, little details and threads reveal themselves. The duo’s band members and support add to proceedings wonderfully and make the song such a full and captivating experience. I found myself trying to pick the lyrics apart and drill down to the core. I guess there will be some mystique and hidden truths but it is one of those tracks that begs for a critical ear to really get inside the words. Whatever your take-away from the track and you will agree it is one of the best songs from the London-based twosome. When Growing Up is revealed to the music-buying public ensures you get hold of a copy and see the videos on YouTube. There will be new ones released gradually to give the public a full insight into the making of the E.P. What Waiting for Rain shows is how superb and seamless the music is and what is can offer. One of the most evocative numbers I have heard for a long time, make sure you do not let the song pass you by.
According to Niels:
“We’ll be releasing the rest of the videos roughly a video a month over the next few months followed by the release of the E.P. on Bandcamp (with an exclusive video version of Growing Up only available with the E.P.)“.
It is always great to hear a talented come through that offers originality and a real sense of purpose to music. Being familiar with Jo and Niels, I know how much music means to them and this comes through in Waiting for Rain. Having released Down to the River already, there will be more videos released soon from Growing Up. With every song the duos combines seamlessly and leave huge impressions in your mind. The musicianship and serenity across Waiting for Rain is a fantastic and beautiful thing. Jo’s voice glides and hovers through the notes creating something quite magical. Combining the Blues-Rock of Led Zeppelin and the Folk sparkle of Fleetwood Mac and you have an act that is going to be in huge demand. At the moment Jo is travelling Asia and I hope to catch up with her very soon. With Niels taking care of the music side of things, the duo has a busy and hectic time ahead. This is good however, because they make music that deserves wide exposure and fond ears. There are so many new acts coming through and a lot of them just fall flat and rarely stick in the memory. Before wrapping things up, it is worth returning to the subjects of duos and music’s challenges. Without knowing it you come across a lot of great acts that are doing something very different and special. I have mentioned duos and the variation you get in London and Jo Kelsey and Niels Bakx are among the very best. The capital seems to be shining at the moment and is seeing a real revival and surge. Last year I was worried about the lack of innovation and great music coming from the capital- Yorkshire and the north were producing more of music’s best. This year there has been a shift back down to London and so many terrific musicians are proffering their intentions. It is the duo market that is intriguing me most and you get a great alternative to bands and solo acts. The duo bond is a perfect balance between the widespread and often impersonal band sounds and the individuality and loneliness of the solo life. There is a great comfort and companionship (with duos) and a lot of music-lovers are relating to this. I know a lot of great musicians are feeling the pinch and strain of the modern market, but it is worth hanging in and just focusing on the music. There is a lot of financial pressure which can lead many to question their passion and purpose. Musicians do their best work when they block out the outside forces and put their minds into the music. With Jo and Niels you get artists who are determined to succeed and play for years; the lack of anxiety and stress comes through in the music. Growing Up is a live-recorded E.P. that sees the duo demonstrated their talents and passion- supported by a group of fantastic musicians. It is only left for me to look at their future and what 2016 will bring. Jo and Niels have been performing together for a while and made some stunning music. This year has seen their finest collaborations and a real insight into the coming year. Knowing Niels has Live at TJ’s to focus on (https://www.facebook.com/liveattjs/?fref=ts); Jo will be busy planning new music and things. It would be great to see the duo release an album and bring together their talents into something full-length. Niels’ bandmates make heavy and classic-sounding Blues-Rock and it would be great to hear an album with some of that thrown in. Jo is a master of Acoustic and Folk blends and that stunning voice can make anything something intoxicating and sensuous. The duo has such a connection and wide talent they could create something quite wonderful. It is the passion and determination the two put into their music that really comes across and resonates. I think 2016 will see them touring a lot and taking their music to new audiences. Both have busy work schedules and I am sure new sounds will be forthcoming. If you have not experienced the musical unison of Jo Kelsey and Niels Bakx I suggest you go back and hear their earliest work. From there, come forward and work to the present-day offerings. It gives a complete picture of a musical force with a lot more to say. Growing Up is a snapshot into two incredible artists that are going to be names to watch. Making music that sounds effortless yet filled with details is a hard trick to pull off, but they manage to do it. If you are looking for an act that can beat away the blues and inspire the mind, then check out Jo Kelsey and Niels Bakx. When they are together and playing they create…
ONE truly special sound.
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