Woah, JJ. That woah is a loaded one, as in “woah, that voice of yours is profound,” or “woah, you’re making us feel things,” or “woah, you’ve got that bad boy thing nailed down,” or during the times he is downplaying his talent, “woah, stop underselling yourself.”
JJ Shiplett is one of the rawest independent artists out there. The grit and realness you get from his songwriting, voice and guitar work is just plain great. And great is what you have to be to stand out and make it, not good or really good, but great.
The night came with some high expectations. JJ was returning to Serenity for the third time, following up his September show when he headlined the big outdoor stage with his band The Red River Rebellion. This was his first house concert here as a solo artist, having to hold the room on his own, just him and his guitar. It was also the largest group to date at a house show, thanks to the new addition of the indoor stage.
There were many newcomers in the audience, who had caught wind of the buzz surrounding the venue, but also of JJ’s reputation and music.
Everything came together in a rising crescendo. JJ worked the crowd up as he powered through tried and true staples off his debut album Drifter, and then began to share his new material that he will be recording in a matter of months.
His ease with the audience also built steadily, as he let us into his tight walls little by little, song by song. But not all the way, never all the way with JJ. That is what makes him so special.
It is hard to put a finger on what makes this guy tick. But that’s the mark of a true artist really. His songs are not written as an open book to his life, they leave a lot to interpretation, allowing your imagination to run wild. Spending even a small amount of time with him, you come to realize how appropriately named his debut album truly is, for JJ is the epitomy of those that remain elusive in the world of rock and roll; the drifters, rolling stones, and wandering souls, who are searching for that mind blowing experience or turn-your-world-upside-down love to inspire the next great song.
Although he attempts to make light of many of the songs he writes, the truth behind his eyes tells a different story. JJ is one of the most soulful artists I have ever experienced. He is relatively young, but the pain, desire, and passion in his voice is so real, and so tangible.
When you hear JJ sing live, it is impossible not to be moved in some way. The power in his voice reaches down into your soul, and grabs a tight hold. Many of his songs are the kind that make your heart skip and stomach rise as they sink right into your bones.
As for what has inspired his writing to date, an obvious theme is relationships with women, but JJ isn’t one to name names, or even admit that any one song is about any one woman. Relationships in general are alluded to throughout his songs, including those with family and friends. The fact that JJ was raised by an evangelical preacher may surprise some, but learning that his father died when he was 16, ending JJ’s church going days for good, somehow doesn’t. I won’t elaborate on that, not sure if JJ would either, but it does give you a glimpse into the heart that is JJ Shiplett, dark and wild, yet full of light and grace.
It’s just a matter of time before JJ is discovered by a massive audience, and when they do, expect him to take everyone by storm.
JJ Shiplett performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on November 23, 2013.
In February 2014, he will begin recording his second full length album. In a bold and brave move that is sure to pay off, JJ will be recording the album live off the floor at a custom created studio on a ranch in Alberta.
Heading into months of album rehersals, hearing JJ live may be hard to come by in the immediate future, so be sure to stay up to date on his performing schedule by following him on facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/JJ-Shiplett/253767533484 and twitter @jjshiplettmusic.
You can purchase JJ Shiplett’s debut album Drifter on iTunes and bandcamp. Find links to album downloads & more at http://www.jjshiplettmusic.com
Sounds like a truly special night. Wonderful review!