This feels like a solid endorsement for two singer-songwriters performing together in a song swap: After seeing Jane Ellen Bryant and Jaimee Harris do just that, I could easily see them in a band together.
The two Austinites are longtime friends, former roommates and, to a large degree, strongly complementary performers. Their stage-sharing Jan. 3 Free Week show at the Belmont was characterized by two dominant elements:
1) The actual elements, with typical Free Week patio-show cold driving some to watch and listen from inside the Belmont, where an open door and a full-length window meant you lost very little, and
2) Bryant’s and Harris’s unique songwriting approaches blending cohesively, such that you could envision a classic dual-frontperson act if they were to form some sort of Austin Americana-pop-rock “supergroup.”
For two hours (a little long? Probably, especially with temps low and heat lamps in short supply), Bryant and Harris traded off songs: A couple JEB songs here, a couple Jaimee songs there, with the writer singing and the other joining the rest of the backing band. Both are direct writers with their own flavors; generally, Bryant (top photo) is more outwardly polished and sassy, Harris earthier and more introspective. That made for an agreeable balance, and their chemistry and comfort onstage together was plainly evident.
Bryant offerings like “Too Smooth” and “Take Me As I Am” projected confidence and defiance, with the latter particularly revealing her upper-register capabilities. Her all-alone-onstage cover of “Diamonds and Rust” late in the set did Joan Baez proud. Harris, clad in the heart-shaped sunglasses that have become a trademark, had her own moments to shine, such as her “upbeat song about depression,” “Depressive State,” and closer “Red Rescue.”
Toward the end of the night, Harris threw in an unexpected, entertaining wrinkle by bringing her father, Chris Harris, onstage. Did you ever come across the viral video “Don’t Eat Your Weed,” in which two musical Waco lawyers give an Americana education on Texas marijuana law? I had seen it, although I couldn’t remember exactly when or how I came to it. Turns out Chris Harris was one of the counselors who told the world possessing a small amount of pot in Texas is “only a Class B misdemeanor,” while swallowing it in panic is tampering with evidence and a felony.
As soon as the self-deprecating Chris began performing it with Jaimee and the band, the song came back to me immediately, yanked out of a mental foot locker where I had stashed the “Don’t Tase Me, Bro” video and such. For those at the Belmont both familiar and unfamiliar with “Don’t Eat Your Weed,” it was a moment of amusement worthy of being an aside.
They never mentioned a thing about doing so, but if Bryant and Jaimee Harris do ever record an album together, I’ll support the endeavor. (Hell, if Chris Harris finds his away onto the record to offer more legal advice, I’ll support that, too.) Like Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile, their pairing just makes sense.
One name, one awfully powerful voice. Caelin, a recent University of Texas graduate, opened the show with more than an appetizer, performing eight songs riding both deft phrasing and emotive power. Her live rendering of “Serenity,” her first single on “all the platforms,” featured a pleasant echo of First Aid Kit. Other songs, like “Growing Pains,” reflected the voice of a young songwriter who has the observational skill to go places with her pen. Engaging onstage and appreciative of the opportunity to open for two accomplished locals, Caelin also handled a classic rock standard with care, delivering a solid cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.”
All photos by Nicole Berlin Photography