Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins / Johnathan Rice - Manchester Academy 3 - 11.02.06

The mature 21 year old Johnathan Rice flanked by the gliding glockenspiel player Farmer Dave, strolls into a stripped down and personal set that nods and winks at Nick Drake, Rufus Wainwright, Ray Lamontagne and Richard Hawley. A dimly lit venue means that the laid back, bitter sweet style of the opening non-album track, haunts you like a Halloween story with the eerie glockenspiel and gently weeping acoustic guitar helping the lyrics to portray a troubled soul;

 “I’ve got a graveyard head and a tombstone mind.”

A self professed mean spirited offering ‘Middle Of The Road’ is delivered with deftness and cutting crispness. Maturity is being epitomised right before the eyes of compelled onlookers. We do not have long to wait for familiar numbers from the ‘Trouble Is Real’ album, with the battle cry of ‘Behind The Front Lines’ belying the tender years of a masterful songster. The best way to get people into your new numbers is to get them to sing them with you and, this is exactly what J R did to give some spirit to a dry and yearning offering. The mood of the crowd is exposed when they choose the slow and soulful ‘Acrobat’ as a closer, as oppose to the sprightly bubble pop ode of ‘So Sweet’.

Rice does not leave the stage for long, he humbly sits at the back tuning up his guitar in the interval, giving a strong hint that his involvement in proceedings is far from over. My suspicious mind is leading me to believe that the purveyors of alcoholic beverages have put a pin prick in the bottom of my Guinness glass. My journey back to the bar is interrupted by the entrance of L.A. songstress Jenny Lewis and The Watson Twins (they are not actually twins by the way, merely sisters), strolling through the crowd singing the snappy and soulful acappela number ‘Run Devil Run’. I decided that my thirst for some gripping gospel sparked country indie, far outweighs that for a stodgy Guinness, so I return to my prime spot.

Johnathan Rice and Farmer Dave provide an uplifting and sojourning accompaniment, while Jenny takes us on a topsy-turvey country/pop journey through the heart of what could be anyone in the room, by way of ‘Big Guns’. For the former child actress, tonight the stage is a world in which she confidently strolls, making observations about the life enhancing nature of liberty in ‘Happy’ and the modern nature of romance through ‘You Are What You Love’, to name but a few. They say that the trouble with the music industry is that consumers are getting lazier and lazier, well tonight it is a luxury we can well afford, as utopia is delivered to our feet in song form through the delectable B-side ‘Paradise’.

The Watson Twins command many a glimpse with their subtle shimmying and alluring gospel backing, but the leading lady is resplendent in the way she commands the room to silence. Jenny is accompanied on stage by only her acoustic guitar and starts slowly a sordid tale of greed and ambition, ‘Rabbit Fur Coat’ the title track to her alluring debut album. Mr. Rice is the last voice we here in the crowd involved finale of ‘Cold Journey’, adding some troubled indie to a varied and thoroughly captivating evening in the company of a meteorically rising starlet.

David Adair

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