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Family, Love, and Influence: Evelyn Jess Releases Album "Bare Bones" on Mother’s Day Weekend

Updated: May 10, 2023


Photo by Ritchie Perez

Author: Stef Curran


All artists are nurtured and influenced by the world around them; from the houses they grew up in, their families, the friends they’ve met along the way, to everything in between. For Newfoundland musician, Evelyn Jess, these influences ring loud throughout her debut album Bare Bones, releasing on May 13, 2023.


Evelyn Jess, born Jessica Evelyn Bemister, was named after her grandmother Evelyn who passed away when she was just 7 years old. When it came time to decide her stage name, she knew she wanted to honour the legacy of her namesake and, in a way, dedicate her music and her artistry to her family. In a beautiful line from the albums press release, Jess says “each time the name appears in lights it will be a shining reminder of her loving memory and joyous spirit.”


It was obvious to Jess that May 13, 2023, Mother’s Day Weekend and her grandmother's birthday, would be the opportune time to release her debut album Bare Bones.


Photo by Alick Tsui


WHO IS EVELYN JESS?


Growing up in the outport town of Rugged Harbour, Newfoundland, Musician Evelyn Jess had no shortage of influence floating around her. Just like many artists growing up in a small town, Jess has always dreamed of what could be, things bigger than singing in her local church choir. Bare Bones may be her debut album, but it certainly isn’t her first time walking into the spotlight.


Jess has already had a very viable career, working with Juno Award Winner, Serena Ryder, and in 2018, Jess was the winner of the Amelia Earhart Songwriting Competition. Not to mention the work she has done with other musicians, such as jamming out with her pop-punk trio Evelyn Jess & The Hot Mess, and performing acoustic sets with her producer GreyJay.


As an openly queer musician, Jess has been an advocate for queer rights and amplifies that with her music. In May 2018, Jess swarmed the internet with her cover of Rupaul’s song Sissy That Walk called Paint the Crosswalk, a callout to the town council in Springdale, NL, who denied the local high schools Gay Straight Alliance the right to paint the sidewalk at their school in rainbow colours to show solidarity with queer folks and their rights. The video made its way around Facebook where it garnered over 40,000 views, making its way to local media, and being the catalyst for heated debates back and forth online on whether or not students should be able to paint a crosswalk.


Crazy stuff, but it shows the intricate way art and advocacy goes hand in hand. This cover sparked other towns in Newfoundland and Labrador to paint their crosswalks, showing the community that not every town council would deny students the right to show support and kindness to their peers facing discrimination for being queer. It also shows the uniqueness of Jess and her music; she is an expert at stating a message but in a way that can be enjoyed by all, even those who may not know what message is being amplified. It’s all about influence and how we use music as a form of communication.



THE BARE BONES OF BARE BONES


Bare Bones is a 9 song album, featuring 8 original compositions and an ambitious cover of Figgy Duff's ‘Weather Out The Storm’. The songs were recorded by Canadian Gold Record awarded engineer Krisjan Leslie and features a plethora of Newfoundland musicians such as Sandy Morris of The Wonderful Grand Band, Mark Hiscock of Shanneyganock, and ECMA winners Natasha Blackwood and Rozalind MacPhail.


Bare Bones from top to bottom is a beautiful concoction of folk melodies infused with pop and country elements. I often was reminded of an early Taylor Swift if she had been surrounded by folk influence. The use of folk instruments on top of a modern folk-pop feel amplifies the messages of each song. This can be heard on tracks like Weather out the Storm which has a very somber melody, but the accordion lays overtop to bring a light of hope within the acoustic darkness. In tracks like Wave, we can hear a rain stick rocking back and forth over the acoustic melody, creating the feeling of rocking back and forth on the waves of the sea.


Jess explains that Bare Bones has strong themes of love and the blessing of family, showing her appreciation for those who surrounded her and raised her. Tracks like Like a Song shows the strength of love between Jess and her life partner and fiancée Bridget. Lyrics paint a picture of the love these two have together, with Jess singing about wanting to give her something that "never changes tune", something you "can never lose, and no one can ever take". The love they share goes on and on like a song, something they can replay over and over.


Bare Bones is not only a love letter to her family, but to the island that raised her. Newfoundland and Labrador has always been known to be kind and hospitable people, and whether that is real or some folklore passed along through generations, it is true that this island produces incredible artists. Artists from Newfoundland and Labrador almost always pay homage to their home, noting the rich culture and history, our interesting geographical location, and the mixed bag of characters in every town.


Home to Newfoundland and Cape Cod by the Sand are both songs that really hit home if you're a Newfoundlander or Labradorian. These tracks highlight the beauty that surrounds us, a beauty that we often forget about or take for granted. It is only when we leave our home that we realize the true natural wonder of the province. The album opens up with a song about Newfoundland and Labrador, but more focused on the people and the behaviour of folks in rural areas of the province.


Trepassey in June is a song about Amelia Earhart, the American aviator who is well known as the first woman to fly a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. The song opens the album, discussing the moment when Earhart landed in Trepassey and got to know the people within the town. Jess sings about the curiosity of the people of Trepassey, asking if she really is going to fly over the Atlantic Ocean. This moment shows the small town mentality, where people in rural communities find such beauty and awe in moments like these because it doesn't happen often in our own province. The song also speaks to how Trepassey left a lasting impression on Earhart, a common feeling when anyone visits any community in the province.


While Bare Bones touches on the love of home and family, it also amplifies the message of togetherness, whether it be for others or for yourself. One Big Mess is a song that touches on the love we build with friends, and how no matter where we go in live, our loved ones are the ones that make any place feel like home. No matter where we go throughout life, we can find that comfort and support through our people. I will admit, this one made me a bit emotional thinking about my support system and how they bring me the comfort of home and safety. There are also tracks like Waves and Bird on the Wing that touch on the support we ourselves give to others in our lives, reaching out and being that stability to make it through the roughness that life has to offer, much like the roughness of the sea we are surrounded by.


My favourite track on the album is the title track, Bare Bones, a song about the longing within us to create or be seen. This song definitely comes from Jess' soul, as she sings about the music within her, even when no other sound surrounds her. This song has a little more pop influence, while still being a true folk tune, showing the vast variety of song and music that runs through Jess' veins. Jess sings about how she doesn't need a drum to keep time, or a bass to keep rhythm, because she feels it all within her as a part of who she is. This song has a small moment of silence which calls listeners to reflex on what is inside them. Personally, as a musician and an artistic person, I felt the moment really allowed me to feel the music even when it wasn't there, sharing a connection to Jess.


As many Newfoundland musicians have done before, Jess will release her album as a physical CD, not through streaming sites for the time being. Jess pushes folks to purchase the CD through Atlantic Music Store Online or by supporting local retailers such as the historic Fred's Records. If you’re interested in seeing the album release live, you will also get a free CD with the purchase of a ticket.


Not to brag, but I got a signed copy.


Bare Bones is a heartfelt introduction to those who have not heard Evelyn Jess before, bringing listeners deep into who she is and what her art is about. If you're from Newfoundland and Labrador, or even any rural community, you can really latch on to the emotions and situations being sung on this album, feeling a sense of home and connection, but there is still lots to offer those who may not be able to connect to this feeling. As I mentioned above, tracks on this album really made me emotional, pushing me to connect these lyrics to my own situations, about my friends and family, and the home that raised me. Jess' true connection to her home and her family shines bright through all the music, and that is what makes this album so special.


Come out on May 13th to support local music and feel the love and influence of family.


Celebrate with Evelyn Jess and her band this Mother's Day Weekend at the Gower Street United Church (in the Sanctuary) at 99 Queens Road on Saturday, May 13th, 2023 for the release of her full-length debut album 'Bare Bones'

Doors Open at 7:30pm. Show at 8pm. Featuring Performances By Spectrum Queer Choir and Strong Harbour Strings. $25 dollar ticket includes admission to the show and

a physical CD copy of the album - to be collected at the show! Proceeds from this event will go back into the community as a donation between Spectrum Queer Choir and Strong Harbour Strings to continue their incredible and inspiring work. Find out more at:

For more info on Evelyn Jess, head to her website: www.evelynjess.com

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