Jessica Kilroy (and Kier Atherton)

Live Review | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | Review by Allan Wilkinson

After a good three months of touring Europe, Montana-born singer-songwriter Jessica Kilroy and road companion Kier Atherton arrived surprisingly refreshed at the Wheelhouse for an intimate evening of songs and music, seamlessly flitting between acoustic folk songs and Americana flavoured bluegrass to the more recent experimental flights of fancy to be found on the duo’s current record, under the guise of Pterodactyl Plains.  Jessica’s music has become much more complicated to categorise now after releasing three albums of starkly differing musical styles from the sparse acoustic folk of Before Dawn (2003), the rootsy bluegrass of Big Dreams (2007) and now the trance-like ambient experimentation of Raven (2010).  Performing for the most part solo, Jessica chose a selection of songs from all three albums with just the one song from another writer’s pen, Gillian Welch’s “Red Clay Halo” and the one traditional song, the turn of the century African American spiritual “Wade in the Water”, which was helped along by some enthusiastic audience participation.  Starting with “Pandora”, a sublimely mellow song from the songwriter’s earliest period, the opening song from her first record in fact, Jessica brought her soulful voice to an almost unsuspecting Barnsley audience.  Having been almost scared off by the might of Nashville, Jessica responded with “Big Dreams”, a song that details the scary reality of following one’s dreams to an essentially cut throat business at the end of the proverbial rainbow.  Good humoured and immediately friendly both on and off stage, Jessica’s approach to stage craft is instantly rewarding to her audience and it doesn’t take long for a rapport to gain momentum and before the end of the first set, Jessica had made a roomful of new friends, all of whom willingly joined in on the choruses when prompted.  Inviting on stage singer/guitarist Kier Atherton, who between them have adopted the guise of Pterodactyl Plains, a name derived from an imaginary prehistoric Montana landscape, the duo performed a couple of new compositions from the new album, in which Jessica frees herself from the constraints of the country/folk three minute song structures, embarking on some fine exploratory sonic experimentation with “Solace” and “Stay Awhile”.  Jessica has overcome a lot during her lifetime, not least the fact that she spent much of her childhood in leg braces.  With a great deal of self determination, Jessica has gone from fire fighting to mountain climbing and continues to live her life to the full through her music.  With a gentle guitar playing style, Jessica put her sunburst Gibson to some good use on songs such as “Home”, “Mamma”, “January Chances” and with an encore of her infectious “Keep Searching”, a poignant song about not giving up, completed yet another great and memorable night at the Wheelhouse.