Grimey’s New and Preloved Music; Nashville, TN
October 14, 2014
Review by Jacqui Sahagian
Third Man Records session player and former frontwoman of The Black Belles Olivia Jean dropped her very first solo album, Bathtub Love Killings, with the label on Tuesday, and celebrated with a packed in-store performance at Grimey’s which included much of her new record as well as some revamped cuts from The Black Belles and a killer Halloween-appropriate cover of The Specials’ 1981 hit “Ghost Town.”
Read on for our full review of the talented lady’s performance.
Jean has been the subject of some unfortunate and gross misogynistic “controversy” from the Third Man and Jack White fan community and, after seeing this performance, we can tell you with even more certainty that Jean is indeed very talented and has a long musical career ahead of her both as a session player and a solo artist. Her confidence and stage presence were drastically improved from when I saw her play with The Black Belles at MI Fest in Michigan three years ago, which makes sense considering she’s spent those three years playing on a plethora of Third Man projects, including both of Jack White’s solo albums and records by Wanda Jackson and Karen Elson.
Dressed like a goth schoolgirl, Jean sang and played the lead guitar she’s lent to so many Third Man artists. She was backed by a foursome of nondescript-looking male musicians, the exact opposite of the goth witches she played with in the Belles. Jean’s still a better musician than she is a singer or frontwoman, but her voice got better as the performance went on. “Haunt Me” was the best song she and her band played from the new record, an alternative country tune that showed off her voice better than most of the other garage pop numbers.
She played some reworked Black Belles songs that sounded miles better than they did on the group’s self-titled 2011 album. “What Can I Do?” and “Not Tonight” both benefited from different arrangements and better musicians playing them. While the Belles were cute and I enjoyed both their witchy schtick and their record, the ladies backing Jean up never really formed a cohesive musical group. Another fun number was a song she said she’d written in high school and had never played live before, “Can You Help Me?,” which turned out to be a surprisingly cute poppy garage rock song.
The show was tempered with a sad note, as earlier in the day news broke that fellow Third Man session musician and keyboard player in Jack White’s band Ikey Owens had passed away while on tour with White in Mexico. Jean dedicated her performance to him and said that it was a sad day for Third Man.
That’s not to say everything was perfect, but Jean is new to being center stage. She seemed almost giddy that so many people packed into the record store to see her. In the middle of the set she stopped to change out of some inconvenient heels that prevented her from being able to hit her guitar pedals, but that along with her broad grins — which had “I can’t believe I’m actually dropping my solo album right now” written all over her face — were only charming.
The set ended with a rollicking cover of The Specials’ ska-punk “Ghost Town,” which fit Jean’s creepy aesthetics perfectly and allowed her and the band to show off a little. Olivia Jean’s rapid growth in the last few years shows a musician with a voracious appetite to learn. Haters aside (and seriously gross haters they are), Bathtub Love Killings won’t be the last we hear from Olivia Jean, but you should definitely give it a listen if you’re into vintage garage pop.