The Real JD Sessions: Bebe and Paulo, JD Smith and Freddie Dickson

The Windmill 06/07/10

What better way to spend a hot evening than to get myself to a ‘night of  southern-influenced spit and sawdust’? Exactly what I thought and so I got myself to The Windmill, for the free monthly night, The Real JD Sessions.

First to play was JD Smith; just one guy and his guitar. Looking focused and contained he took to the stage and after a short sound-check he blasted us immediately with some really impressive music. He mixes gruff powerful vocals with a thrusty thrashy guitar and it really draws you in. The style of music he makes is a mix of blues, rockabilly, country and it has a good dollop of punk rock thrown in their too. He plays his guitar brilliantly, with lots of slides thrown in. His voice judders and growls through many a song, with the melody totally in tact. What’s so clever about this bloke is that he combines the nostalgic sound of rockabilly with a modern rock sound, making music that’s fuelled by the past whilst at the same time is modern and relevant.

It’s pretty clear that I’m impressed by JD Smith but there was one area that left me wanting more. His stage presence was pretty non-existent, so much so that the transition between the sound check and the start of the set was almost impossible to recognise. I’m the last person to want someone gabbering away endlessly between songs, but a few personable sentences in between songs is one the great things about seeing live music, isn’t it? You get encounter the musician behind the music. His near-silence between songs, meant that for a lot of people his music was background music – as the previous paragraph shows – this shouldn’t be the case!

Next to play were Bebe and Paolo; a brilliant looking duo took to the stage and began their set. The tall guitarist started strumming and the within seconds the vocalist, who couldn’t have been more than 5 ft v.few, started singing with a powerful jazzy drawl. She’s magnetic to watch and in her first song My Name Is Bebe she declares ‘got myself a toyboy, when I’m with him I don’t need to use a sex toy’ With lyrics like this there’s always a risk it could sound, well, just a bit tacky. But, not a drop of tackiness is audible because Bebe’s voice and style is so accomplished. Her voice is sexy and soulful and at times sounds a bit like old school Gwen Stefani with the occasional breathless quality of Marylin Monroe! Paolo the guitarist plays really well and the two of them make jazzy/bluesy music with flecks of country here and there.

Rich Kids was a song that stuck out in the set. It’s all about rich kids that pretend to be hard done by when really they’ve got it all. I’m not really explaining particularly well, so here are a couple of lines to sum it up: ‘You acting like you’re broken, talk like you’ve done it all, and I’ve seen you sniffing Ketamin, Jeff Koons on the wall…hi rich kid…Well you’re making out you struggle you’ve got holes in your shoes, but the difference between me and you, is that you get to choose’ It’s a witty criticism of a certain type of hypocrisy that gets the tone just right.

They finished their set with a ska medley, starting with The Special’s A Message to you Rudy (Bebe got a Kazoo out), which then sped up to Toots and the Maytals’ Pressure Drop and then moved into Madness’s Baggy Trousers. It was fun, energetic and an unexpected way to finish their set. I think there the elements of the unexpected in their music are what makes it so good to listen to.

Last up was Freddie Dickson and his keyboardist. He had been described on the write up as a mix of Jeff Buckley and Ray LaMontagne and so I was expecting a great voice, and – from the Buckley comparison – great lyrics. He started playing: Great voice? check, great lyrics? Not so much. In the song Don’t Know Why I heard lyrics like ‘I’m too young to fall in love…I gave you a coat you were cold…drenched in rain…I gave you a rose, good as gold’ and ‘I’d live for you I’d die for you’ etc. etc. We’ve got anguish, young love, chivalry , a rose and of course some atmospheric rain whacked in there too. All of this is puntuated with painful sounding yelps. I sound harsh and I’m sure he really feels all these things, but I just wish he’d found a more unique way of expressing it.

One of the last songs was quite bluesy and more engaging but in general his music is gentle Folk/Rock with a clear influence of Damien Rice. It also in parts reminded me of a simpler more emotional Counting Crows. These influences are fine and he clearly wants his music to be emotive and poignant, I just can’t help feeling that it would be more so, if his lyrics and style were more individual.