K.C. Jones moves so effortlessly between genres, traditions, and musical concepts that it’s clear she was born with an insatiable artistic curiosity. As a teenager, she emerged from a deeply musical Appalachian family to become one of the foremost singers, guitarists, and dancers in old-time music. Moving to Southwest Louisiana, she quickly learned Cajun French and began writing preternaturally gifted original songs in dual languages with progressive Cajun bands like GRAMMY-nominated Feufollet and T’Monde. Both of these jumping off points, what she casually refers to as “obsessions,” have fueled the music on her debut solo record, Queen of the In Between, due out June 18, 2021, but she also seamlessly references so much more, everything from classic country to psychedelic rock to contemporary indie roots singer-songwriters. Jones is a fearless bandleader, weaving together an opus that sounds remarkably cohesive. She’s roaming the halls of 20th century Americana synthesizing a century’s worth of music with ease. It’s not simply a meld of seemingly disparate influences; Queen of the in Between dazzles in its ability to speak to the universality of human emotion.
Though New Orleans is lauded as America’s great musical crucible, 100 miles west as the crow flies lies another key Louisiana musical microcosm (and K.C. Jones’ home of 15 years): the city parish of Lafayette. Though well known as the epicenter of Cajun and Creole music, there’s another world bubbling below the surface in Lafayette: a community of young, master musicians—many influenced by the traditional music of the area and the South more generally—defiantly looking ahead and beyond. With fashion shoots in the streets, packed bars pre-COVID, and trail rides into the countryside, Lafayette’s become a defining force in modern Louisiana roots music and K.C. Jones is an integral part of this scene. She’s drawing from Lafayette’s best to make up the band on the new record, from Chris Stafford (pedal steel, guitars, keys, vocals), Trey Boudreaux (bass), and Jim Kolacek (drums, percussion), to notable Cajun musician and producer Joel Savoy (guitars, vocals), who recorded and produced the album at his GRAMMY-winning studio. Jones approached the recording sessions with intention, bringing near fully-formed ideas about sonic palettes and arrangements along with her. “We went out to Eunice and stayed there for a week, and we were really in the zone,” says Jones. “We were trying to create a mood, a kind of a bubble. It was a great atmosphere to create without the distractions of the outside world.”
Though her country, Appalachian, and Cajun roots are evident in the new album, Jones’ love of late 60s/early 70s rock and singer-songwriter music—of which she is a devout record collector and enthusiast—is a sonic cornerstone of Queen of the In Between. “The couple of years before recording, I was obsessed with Gene Clark’s album No Other. I was listening to that a lot, some of Janis Ian’s weirder stuff, and probably a little too much T-Rex,” Jones laughs. Indeed, Queen of the In Between features a signature psych-twang baritone guitar sound throughout, sprinklings of Hammond B3 organ, even fuzzed-out, garage rock-esque guitar lines. Ultimately though, the record boasts spacious production that prioritizes melody, and Jones’ vocals and lyrics above all else. Jones says, “We wanted little ear candy elements through it, but the whole point of recording these songs for me, was wanting to communicate the lyrics.”
And for good reason; the lyrics themselves are a standout. It’s rare for an artist to come to the table with such a clear vision of who they are as a songwriter on a debut solo effort. From the simple metaphorical elegance of “Heat Rises”—Jones’ take on a finite cycle of love, from spark to dying ember, played out over one night around a campfire—to her tongue-in-cheek lament on the fast pace and pressures of modern life in “I’ve Got Time,” to the anxieties of beginning anew amidst a cloud of uncertainty in “Beginnings and Ends,” Jones is able to express the depths of fundamentally human and relatable emotions with astonishing directness. In Jones’ words, “I like to draw a picture, but get to the point.” It’s a gift that plays in glorious harmony with her one-of-a-kind voice—a little bit of twang, a rock ‘n roll edge, and even dreamy, 60s girl group moments with Ronettes-style backing vocals. Although Jones’ lyrics hit you straight-on, they’re exploring complex themes of personal growth, self-awareness, anxiety, intimate relationships, and heartbreak. There’s a radical sensitivity imbued in these songs, a commitment to sitting with one’s emotions in a truly introspective way. While it would be easy to categorize Jones more simply as a “badass rock and roll front woman”—and that doesn’t mislabel her, either—it’s her ways of finding strength and dignity through sensitivity that run a deeper, more subtle feminist thread through the album.
Queen of the In Between is at once edgy and gentle, raw and refined, confident and vulnerable. It’s a modern cosmic country treat for the ears, that places Jones squarely at the center of the broader, progressive, genre-bending roots music movement. Jones refers to the “quilt of the album,” and indeed, one could make that comparison more literally. Made of some warm and familiar pieces—a little bit nostalgic, but completely distinct when sewn together by Jones’ practiced hands—Queen of the In Between is simultaneously personal and self-aware, while honoring something larger than itself. It invites the curious listener to ponder what’s next in Jones’ artistic trajectory. But for now, she’s given us plenty to revel in.