Hear That Lonesome Whippoorwill

Jess Reimer releases poignant and personal sophomore LP

Talia Potash

Often you have to let go before you can move on.

Hailing from Burntwood River via Winkler, MB, musician Jess Reimer was weaned on bluegrass. After growing up tinkering around on guitar and singing country and gospel tunes with her dad, the two formed a successful bluegrass group: The Doug and Jess Band. Five years ago, Reimer decided to go solo.

“Eventually I just needed to be free to do completely what I was interested in without the concern of someone you love as much as your own dad,” Reimer says. “Now I’m trying to follow my natural voice a little more.”

Reimer currently lives in La Riviere, MB with her husband and musical partner Jer Hamm, who is also a former member of The Doug and Jess Band. Together they run a popular luthier school.

“Half of me loves living out in the country and half of me gets driven crazy by it,” explains Reimer. “I mean, it’s great here. It’s beautiful and peaceful and quiet but it’s also very quiet. I’m always plotting ways of getting into the city.”

While rural living can be isolating, it can also foster creativity.

Shortly after Reimer’s first record Sweet Darling and Sorrow was released, she met Blue Rodeo founding keyboardist Bob Wiseman at Trout Forest Music Festival in Ontario.

“I guess he liked what I was doing,” Reimer says. “He ended up coming out to La Riviere to fix something on his guitar that same trip, and I sweated over a vegan meal trying to figure out what to make.”

Those humble beginnings developed into a magical evening spent singing Joni Mitchell songs in a little red tractor. That night, Wiseman offered to produce Reimer’s next album.

“It was a neat beginning,” Reimer says. “We both had very different musical experiences and leanings so it was definitely an interesting melding of ideas.”

The Nightjar and The Garden (out on local label Pipe and Hat), was recorded in a draughty old warehouse over the course of a Winnipeg winter. Folk festival favourite Ron Sexsmith contributes vocals on four of the tracks.

The album contemplates the duality of life, the pull between needing to be responsible and together while also experiencing the desire to be free. Reimer is all too familiar with this conundrum after becoming a young mother in a strict religious community. 

Perhaps it’s no surprise that the Nightjar contains her most personal material yet.

“I think it was time for a lot of those songs to come out,” Reimer says. “I sent Bob a whole bunch of options and these were the ones he liked. Perhaps they were just the best songs and perhaps they were the best songs because they were the most authentic to my life.”

Published in Volume 69, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 21, 2015)

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