Calgary soul-roots singer-songwriter Jess Knights is celebrating the release of her debut full-length album, Best Kind of Light, on June 20. Backed by a full band, she’ll be coming to you live from an undisclosed location known as “the Speakeasy.” This is a free livestream performance on Facebook and YouTube.
Of the 11 songs contained on Best Kind of Light, there are traces of the blues that have always informed her sound. Case in point: the gloriously sultry “Try a Little Harder,” where she calls out lazy courtship. “I know your kind/You come around here saying ‘Damn girl, you’re fine’/But I ain’t the type to fall flat and cold to a man with a line/You gotta try a little harder,” she sings to an eruption of scorching blues licks.
But the blues are a mere reference point to the classic soul the album is mostly rooted in. There are whirling organ sojourns (“Leave Me for the Last Time”), piano-pop bops (“Cover Your Eyes,” “One Last Shot”), and on “Baby, Won’t You Stay” her backup players channel a Dap-Kings level of throwback energy.
All the while, some lap steel and country strains find their way into a few songs. The most welcome surprise, though, is the sparkling dub beats heard on “Halfway.”
To achieve the revivalist vibe she was after, Knights headed to Toronto in 2019 and assembled the crème de la crème of songsmiths and sidemen, including award-winning producer Joshua Van Tassel, Joey Landreth, R. Grunwald, and others. The lineup adds dimension to Knights’ songs while bringing into focus the moody, dimly-lit spectrum of her classically-trained voice, which has drawn comparisons to U.K. luminaries Amy Winehouse and Eliza Doolittle.
Upon the release of her heartfelt debut EP Won’t Wait in 2018, Knights landed on several year-end lists with the Calgary Herald and TheYYScene naming her one to watch. The EP received significant play on SiriusXM, enjoyed spins on CBC Radio, and charted on college stations throughout Canada.
While Won’t Wait captured the grit of the dive bars where she found her voice, the polish of Best Kind of Light places her in sleeker settings.
All proceeds from the sale of Best Kind of Light on June 19 and 20 will be donated to the Calgary Anti-Racism Education (CARED) program at the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre.