Gig Review: Jim Lesses
At The Hills Folk Club - November 7, 1999

"Once a month the Hills Folk Club, at its blackboard session, provides room for a special guest to have an extended spot. This month it was Jim Lesses, who has been a regular at the Hills for a couple of years. It's been interesting to watch Jim's rocket-like growth as a performer, from a self-effacing apologist, shaking his head and scowling at his guitar and himself whenever he made a mistake, to an energetic, open, engaging artist, putting into practice everything -well, almost everything - he preached in his inspiring article (SCALA News July/August 1999).

One of the first things that struck me was the quality of Jim's lyrics. Having since had time to have a good look at them, that impression is confirmed. The themes are imaginative (Don't Sell Us Pipe Dreams, Ned Kelly's Tea House, Barbarous Rituals), introspective (Sometimes (I wake Up Naked), I Woke Up Dreaming Of The Devil, Is This The Promise?) and challenging (Feel The Fear (and Make It Run)). There is often a humorous undertone (Tuesday Night In The Jungle) which is welcome, as the songs demand serious and concentrated listening.

Which brings me to say that I think, at this stage in his development at any rate, Jim is a better lyricist than a tunesmith. There's a sameness about many of the melodies and the style he uses. He seems to be drifting away from a folk orientation to more of a soft pop approach, with most songs receiving similar arrangement. It's difficult to sustain interest like that when you're a solo performer and don't have other instruments or performers to add variety. At the gig, Jim sang ten of his songs, in two sets, with various other acts in between. It's not easy to warm up your audience for a second time in such circumstances.

Jim chose to do this by saving all his fast-paced numbers for the second set and I'm not sure that this came off all that well. All the pieces were medium-fast to fast - sort of Glenn McRath-ish - and were accompanied by the guitar strummed with a flatpick, which can become monotonous after a while. I'd like to see Jim develop his fingerpicking and vary his sets more in both accompaniment and pace. His splendid lyrics carry powerful messages and I believe some would carry that message more clearly and with more impact if they were given more space, a slower tempo and lighter arrangement.

Jim has developed his patter well, allowing his cheerful personality to engage the audience and pull them into the songs with him. He knew his songs well, and performed with conviction and energy, charging his voice with the emotion of each lyric. Like all of us at one time or another, Jim can lean towards the sledgehammer approach to a song, belting the message home with volume (too close to the mike - audience members were flinching), unrelenting pace and too many verses. I know how it is - you have a theme and you develop tremendous enthusiasm for it, the Muse is standing behind you and the words flow from the pen page after page and you want the world to hear all of it! Been there, oh yes. But sometimes understatement and restraint can be even more powerful, if only by contrast with other songs in a set.

When I saw Jim on Sunday I couldn't believe how far he's come as a performer in such a short time. Having re-read his article Courting The Act I can only feel admiration for the man's discipline and focus and the depth of thought he puts into not only writing songs - hell, that's difficult enough - but also the all-important aspect of helping an audience understand and relate to the content. I'm looking forward to seeing the next phase of development.

May the Force be with you, Jim."

~ Les Montanjees: SCALA NEWS, Nov/Dec 1999


 

JIM LESSES: Sometimes I Wake Up Naked

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JIM LESSES: American Dream

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