Jess Ribeiro arrives at my place one Saturday afternoon carrying a well-travelled guitar case and a cute smile.
I show her around my cluttered little house, explaining how I plan to seat the 50 odd guests who will arrive in a couple of hours to hear Jess perform her self-penned country-rock-folk songs.
Jess takes it all in her stride – the family home moonlighting as a music venue, the chatty strangers who are hosting the gig in their home (that’s me and my accommodating husband) and the notion of a mystery audience of our friends and acquaintances who have paid to attend this intimate Parlour gig.
We give Jess a spare room to settle in and she takes some time out to prepare (or maybe even take a pre-gig power nap). Jess seems pleased to have some space to retreat for a while as we get on with the business of finalizing domestic details ahead of the gig-goers arrival. Details like igniting a galaxy of tea-light candles, arranging a few food platters and arranging and re-arranging seating.
Over the next hour the front door swings open again and again as friends, family (and friends of friends and family) start to fill the house. There’s loud and excited chatter and a warm and friendly ‘vibe’ as people crowd the large kitchen to catch up with old friends and make new ones. We’ve bought a bit of grog and we’ve opened our home to these guests but they’ve all come bearing their own items of hospitality – food and drinks to share and a willingness to bear witness to some local musical talent.
When it’s time for the show to begin the crowd moves to the lounge-room where we’ve spilled floor cushions all over the floorboards (thanks to another Parlour gig host/friend who kindly loaned us theirs) and Jess stands before an attentive audience with a grin that is most likely just a bit nervous.
For the next hour Jess has all of us hypnotised with her sweet songs and honeyed voice that belies the darkness of some of the lyrics. “If you were a kelpie, I’d shoot you,” she sings with an ironic drawl.
Jess is a natural storyteller, with and without her guitar. She tells us of her father Pedro and his passion for ocean fishing – a talent and occupation that Jess admits she didn’t inherit. She was once mistaken by a commercial fisherman as a seasoned sea-woman until a chunderous boat-trip and a panicked jump from vessel to sea proved otherwise.
From her first album, My Little River, Jess wraps a perky twang of country guitar around a tale of family dysfunction in the song Truckyard.
Sitting on the corner
Waiting for my mother
She’s pressing on the pokies
Smokin’ like a chimney
Hope you win some gold coins
And bring us out a meat tray
So we can have a Barbie
If we go home
When she brings out newer music from the acclaimed Kill it Yourself album, there’s a distinct rock twist on Jess’s earlier country tunes. In Rivers on Fire, “everything is falling apart” but not this singer’s command of her brooding musicianship.
Introducing the sultry and swooning Hurry Back to Love, Jess shares some inside humour from the experience of collaborating with Mick Harvey (Bad Seeds, PJ Harvey). “Mick didn’t get this song at all at first. He didn’t know what I was trying to do with it and was getting a bit grumpy with me. He’s probably German,” she laughs. Thankfully the six German guests in the room are not in the least bit offended and nod vigorously in agreement.
The hour of Jess Ribeiro singing in my lounge room passes quickly but is rich and magical. Even though she delivers a generous encore, we’re not ready to say good night to this incredible talent. Just as well she’s brought CDs with her so those of us hungry for more can continue our love affair.
As people leave they’re gushing with thanks and genuine appreciation of being part of such an intimate musical experience. That’s the magic of the Parlour gig – the opportunity to get up close and really hear these musicians who bare their souls on a guitar string or on the top of a vocal note.
A couple of days later and the thank you messages from friends are still streaming in. But the one that satisfies me the most is a text message from a sixty-year-old friend who says, “hey, that Green Valley Farm that Jess sung about… I know that place. I’ve been there!”