KC Jones' Country and Appalachian Roots are Evident in the New Album 'Queen Of The In Between'
By Devon Leger.
KC Jones has always been curious. It’s what compelled her to achieve excellence in old-time fiddle, singing, guitar, and percussive dance as a teenager. It’s what brought her to Southwest Louisiana, where she soon learned Cajun French and began writing and performing original songs in dual languages with progressive Cajun bands like Feufollet and T’Monde. Now, it’s what has laid the groundwork to knit her myriad musical and cultural interests—what she casually refers to as “obsessions”—into an impressively cohesive collection of original songs on her debut solo record, Queen of the In Between. The record draws upon a remarkable range of styles—from classic country to psychedelic rock to contemporary indie roots singer-songwriters. Yet it’s not simply a meld of seemingly disparate influences; Queen of the in Between dazzles in its ability to speak to the universality of human emotion.
About 100 miles west of New Orleans, as the crow flies, lies another Louisiana musical microcosm, and KC Jones’ home of 15 years: the city parish of Lafayette. Though well known as an epicentre of Cajun and Creole music, there’s another world bubbling below the surface in Lafayette: a community of young, master musicians—many influenced by the traditional music of the area and the South more generally—defiantly looking ahead and beyond. Jones is an integral part of this scene, in addition to the players in her band on the new record: Chris Stafford (pedal steel, guitars, keys, vocals), Trey Boudreaux (bass), Jim Kolacek (drums, percussion), and notable Cajun musician and producer Joel Savoy (guitars, vocals), who also recorded and produced the album at his GRAMMY-winning Eunice, Louisiana studio.
The daughter of respected old-time musician Carl Jones, Jones grew up immersed in music, initially Appalachian traditional music. With a homebase in Durham, North Carolina, she spent much of her childhood traveling around the country to old-time festivals and fiddle camps. By the age of 14, she was singing harmony on stage with her dad, playing guitar and dabbling in fiddle, and honing her skills in percussive dance, the latter of which would take her around the world performing with the highly regarded dance troupe Rhythm in Shoes. Beyond developing her musicianship and performance chops, Jones was soaking in the beauty of community-building through music and rubbing shoulders with purveyors like Dirk Powell, who she credits, in part, with sparking an early interest in Cajun roots music and the culture of Southwest Louisiana.
Her curiosity, of course, didn’t stop here. While working towards a degree in Dance from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Jones was playing and writing with bands around town from the get-go: first the trio T’Monde, and later Feufollet, contributing the lion’s share of original material (in both English and French) to their album Two Universes. She has collaborated extensively with Joel Savoy, including a duo EP released on Savoy’s label, Valcour Records. Amidst her busy touring and recording career, Jones was all the while writing her own songs, and began performing them around Louisiana. Eventually, she and her musical peers in Lafayette set out to record Queen of the In Between after performing her material live with a full band, at what turned out to be a magical show. Jones approached the recording sessions with intention, bringing near fully-formed ideas about sonic palettes and arrangements along with her. “We went out to Eunice and stayed there for a week, and we were really in the zone,” says Jones. “We were trying to create a mood, a kind of a bubble. It was a great atmosphere to create without the distractions of the outside world.”
Though her country and Appalachian roots are evident in the new album, Jones’ love of late 60s/early 70s rock and singer-songwriter music—of which she is a devout record collector and enthusiast—is a sonic cornerstone of Queen of the In Between. “The couple of years before recording, I was obsessed with Gene Clark’s album ‘No Other’. I was listening to that a lot, some of Janis Ian’s weirder stuff, and probably a little too much T-Rex,” Jones laughs. Indeed, Queen of the In Between features a signature psych-twang baritone guitar sound throughout, sprinklings of Hammond B3 organ, even fuzzed-out, garage rock-esque guitar lines. Ultimately though, the record boasts spacious production that prioritizes melody, and Jones’ vocals and lyrics above all else. Jones says, “We wanted little ear candy elements through it, but the whole point of recording these songs for me, was wanting to communicate the lyrics.”
And for good reason; the lyrics themselves are a standout. It’s not every day that an artist comes to the table with such a clear vision of who they are as a songwriter on a debut solo effort. From the simple metaphorical elegance of “Heat Rises”—Jones’ take on a finite cycle of love, from spark to dying ember, played out over one night around a campfire—to her tongue-in-cheek lament on the fast pace and pressures of modern life in “I’ve Got Time”, to the anxieties of beginning anew amidst a cloud of uncertainty in “Beginnings and Ends”, Jones is able to express the depths of fundamentally human and relatable emotions with astonishing directness. In Jones’ words, “I like to draw a picture, but get to the point.” It’s a gift that plays in glorious harmony with her one-of-a-kind voice, a voice that truly escapes comparison—a little bit of twang, a rock ‘n roll edge, and even dreamy, 60s girl group moments complete with Ronettes-style backing vocals—all somehow delivered with an effortless, conversational lilt that lends even more punch to her words. Although Jones’ poetry tends to hit you straight-on, it does so while exploring themes of personal growth, self-awareness, anxiety, intimate relationships, and heartbreak. There’s a kind of radical sensitivity about these songs, a commitment to sitting with one’s emotions in a truly introspective way. While it would be easy to categorize Jones more simply as a “badass rock and roll front woman”—and that doesn’t mislabel her, either—it’s her ways of finding strength and dignity through sensitivity that run a deeper, more subtle feminist thread through the album.
Queen of the In Between is at once edgy and gentle, raw and refined, confident and vulnerable. It’s a modern cosmic country treat for the ears, that places Jones squarely at the center of the broader, progressive, genre-bending roots music movement. Jones refers to the “quilt of the album”, and indeed, one could make that comparison more literally: made up of some warm and familiar pieces—a little bit nostalgic, but completely distinct when sewn together by Jones’ practiced hands—Queen of the In Between is simultaneously personal and self-aware, while honoring something larger than itself. It makes the listener curious, as well—curious to know what’s next in Jones’ artistic trajectory. But for now, she’s given us plenty to revel in.