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The Jellyman's Daughter

Venue: Leith Folk Club
Town: Edinburgh
Date: 13/12/16

Edinburgh-based acoustic duo The Jellyman's Daughter consists of Emily Kelly (vocals, guitar and mandolin) and Graham Coe (vocals, cello, guitar and mandolin). They combine exquisite vocal harmonies and instrumental virtuosity, with Graham's rhythmic, percussive and improvisational cello playing giving their music a unique appeal. Their debut album, "The Jellyman's Daughter", featuring their exhilarating blend of bluegrass and contemporary folk-pop, was released in 2014 to critical acclaim and the pair have toured extensively since then to bring their music to a wide audience across the UK and other parts of northern Europe. More recently, there have been opportunities to play in the USA and Canada too.

Leith Folk Club provided a suitably atmospheric setting for the gig on 13th December and the club was filled to capacity for this, its last live music event of 2016. The evening's proceedings kicked off with a stirring set of harmonica-infused songs from Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter, Calum Baird.

With the audience suitably warmed up, The Jellyman's Daughter were given a warm and enthusiastic welcome to the stage for the first of their two sets of the night. They opened with the eerie traditional murder ballad, "Darling Corey", which was performed largely a capella, showcasing the gorgeous vocal harmonies of Emily Kelly and Graham Coe. This was followed by the driving Americana of "Anna", which featured a soaring chorus and a sparkling plucked cello solo.

For the first cover of the evening, we were treated to a tender and quietly-impassioned reading of the Bill Monroe classic, "Cry Cry Darlin", with more outstanding harmonies. Following the cello-driven bluegrass swagger of "Carolina", featuring a sassy and soulful lead vocal from Emily, the covers came thick and fast for the next few numbers. These included a gently free-wheeling take on the Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings standard, "The Way It Will Be", punctuated by a series of elegant cello breaks from Graham; an imaginative, bluesy version of The Beatles' "Can't Buy Me Love"; and a stunning rendition of Joni Mitchell's "A Case Of You", with both Emily and Graham showing the full range of their expressive vocals. Following the elegant and wistful "All That's Been", the first set finished with "The Parting Glass", a beautiful old Scottish song, which was apparently often sung at the end of a gathering of friends in days gone by. Emily joked that this song had been learned for the duo's gigs in Canada, when it had become clear that there was an expectation among audiences for 'Scottish music'...

For the second set, Graham Coe and Emily Kelly were joined by Paul Gilbody on double bass to give the sound more depth and texture, as necessary. The news that work has begun on The Jellyman's Daughter's second album (planned for release during 2017) was greeted enthusiastically by the audience and the early part of this set was peppered with new songs, which served notice of a growing maturity and sophistication in the duo's song-writing and musical arrangements. Emily Kelly kindly dedicated the graceful "Fano" to a few of The Jellyman's Daughter's 'super-fans' and she also explained that the poignant "Oh Boy" had been inspired by one of their friends. My pick of the uniformly excellent new songs was the epic chamber-pop of "You Don't Know Love", which was notable for soothing and soulful vocals from Emily, a towering middle eight and inspired cello from Graham, ranging from mellow and sombre tones to rhythmic and choppy riffs.

Graham Coe's rhythmic cello was to the fore again in the powerful "Blue Lullaby", whose choruses brimmed with gospel fervour. "Slow Burn" did exactly that, building up a hypnotic grove, overlaid with swinging bursts of cello and propelled along by emphatic double bass. The delicate ballad, "Little Child" (dedicated to the pair's respective Mums), saw Emily's feathery vocals balanced by Graham's elegantly understated cello arrangement.

Delivering a bit of festive spirit, Graham Coe produced an outstanding lead vocal on a stripped back and slowed down version of Slade's mega Christmas hit, "Merry Christmas Everybody". Yet another terrific cover came in the form of the closing song, "You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman" (Carole King/Aretha Franklin), with Emily Kelly's vocals reaching new heights of soulfulness and Graham and Paul clearly having a ball providing the vocal backups and harmonies. There was only time for one song in the encore and this saw a return to the Christmas theme, with "Silent Night". Taken at a leisurely pace, this version included heart-warming vocals from Emily and Graham and a delightful cello solo which nodded in the direction of Western swing.

This was a sparkling performance from The Jellyman's Daughter: very assured and full of passion and invention. They continue to grow as musicians, singers, song-writers and performers and have both the talent and the potential to become leading players in the contemporary folk-pop and bluegrass scene in this country and beyond. I have very high hopes for their forthcoming second album.

David Ferguson

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