For all of love’s agonies, Calgary soul-roots singer-songwriter Jess Knights isn’t sulking over old wounds. On her debut full-length, Best Kind of Light, due out on June 19, 2020 (postponed due to pandemic), Knights comes out on the other side of love and loss without all the bitterness, but rather a sense of self-assuredness.
It’s this triumphant reclamation that frames the album’s title track, about a graceful end to a relationship. “It’s a choice to move on from any relationship with grace and integrity,” Knights says. “‘Best Kind of Light’ traces a reflection on what was with a recognition of what is, and a choice to remember the good and hopefully learn from the not-so-good.”
Of the 11 songs contained on Best Kind of Light, there are traces of the blues that have always informed her sound. Case in point: the gloriously sultry ‘Try a Little Harder,” where she offers the best clapback to lazy courtship. “I know your kind/You come around here saying ‘Damn girl, you’re fine’/But I ain’t the type to fall flat and crawl to a man with a line/You gotta try a little harder,” she sings to an eruption of scorching blues licks.
But the blues are a mere reference point to the classic soul the album is mostly rooted in. There are whirling organ sojourns (“Leave Me for the Last Time”), piano-pop bops (“Cover Your Eyes,” “One Last Shot”), and on “Baby, Won’t You Stay” her backup players channel a Dap-Kings level of throwback energy.
All the while, some lap steel and country strains find their way into a few songs. The most welcome surprise, though, is the sparkling dub beats heard on “Halfway.”
To achieve the revivalist vibe she was after, Knights headed to Toronto in 2019 and assembled the crème de la crème of songsmiths and sidemen, including award-winning producer Joshua Van Tassel, Donovan Woods, Joey Landreth, and others. The lineup adds dimension to Knights’ songs while bringing into focus the moody, dimly-lit spectrum of her classically-trained voice, which has drawn comparisons to U.K. luminaries Amy Winehouse and Eliza Doolittle.
Upon the release of her heartfelt debut EP Won’t Wait in 2018, Knights landed on several year-end lists with the Calgary Herald and TheYYScene naming her one to watch. The EP received significant play on SiriusXM, enjoyed spins on CBC Radio, and charted on college stations throughout Canada.
While Won’t Wait captured the grit of the dive bars where she found her voice, the polish of Best Kind of Light places her in sleeker settings. Indeed, it’s a sign of where she’s headed, and the only way is forward.