Lately, I’ve been thinking about the journeys upon which we embark. Having recently relocated to the Pacific Northwest, I’ve become fascinated by those traveled paths, how we discovered them, and where they take us.
On a recent Sunday (Mother’s Day), Leigh Jones and her seven-piece collective, Eugenia Riot, took another step on their musical journey celebrating the release of their debut album, Can’t Wait to Miss You, at Bellingham’s Blue Room. And for the warm and attentive audience, Leigh’s songs guided us a little further down the path of musical discovery. For me, it was a lovely introduction to a new artist in an intimate Bellingham venue.
Leigh Jones’s journey actually began centuries ago; 1205 to be exact. A real person and to whom Jones traces her ancestry, Eugenia Riot was born that year in Yorkshire, England (coincidentally, Eugenia Riot also makes a for a pretty cool band name). Fast forward about 800 years to Wilmington, North Carolina, where as a child Jones began learning her craft in musical stage productions such as Annie and Peter Pan.
By high school she was tackling more complex and adult roles in Hair and Chicago. But after graduating from New York University in 2008, life goals began changing prompting her to begin composing her own music. As she told The Wilmington Star News, “I was feeling crappy [and] I had reached a boiling point with my creative self and had to start writing.”
In 2014, she moved to Portland, Oregon, where she soon began playing with the bluegrass band, Crow and the Canyon. After multiple tours (including a 2018 tour of Eritrea, Uganda, Zambia, and Ethiopia as part of a US State Department-sponsored American Music Abroad cultural exchange), Jones eventually joined the all-woman trio, Five Letter Word. After that band broke up in 2022, Eugenia Riot was (re)born.
Watch the official music video for “170 Delancey” by Eugenia Riot on YouTube:
Released on May 12, Eugenia Riot’s debut album, Can’t Wait to Miss You (Noble Dissent) showcases Leigh’s songwriting, musicianship, and production skills. Clearly a labor of love, the album shines with melodies so catchy you’ll subconsciously be humming them within a listen or two. In a live setting, the tunes shine even brighter.
Recorded in Bellingham, Washington, Can’t Wait to Miss You was coproduced by Jones with local musicians Jeremy Elliott and Aaron Guest, both of whom performed at The Blue Room on May 14. The live incarnation of Eugenia Riot is Leigh Jones (vocals, acoustic guitar, drums), Clara Baker (violin, vocals), Megan Alder (acoustic & electric guitar, vocals), Jeremy Elliott (electric & acoustic guitar), Aaron Guest (keys), Sean O’Neill (bass), and Timothy Van Cleave (drums). A record release show in Bellingham seemed fitting for the full circle aspect of at least one part of Jones’s journey.
Bellingham-based luthier Devin Champlin opened the proceedings precisely at 8 o’clock, with a 40-minute set of finger-picked folk melodies and wry, idiosyncratic lyrics that would have made John Prine proud. That is to say, Champlin was pretty good.
Eugenia Riot opened its set with the new album’s first song, “Easy Now,” a gorgeous, hymn-like piece featuring Jones’s powerful, soaring vocal that led into “Wild Dream,” a pleasing mid-tempo waltz featuring Clara Baker’s (formerly of Five Letter Word) sighing violin and backing vocals. Jones introduced the evening’s first up-tempo rocker, “Emergency” as inspired by a long-ago beau who nonetheless was still listed as her emergency contact.
Stream Can’t Wait to Miss You by Eugenia Riot on Spotify:
The next song, “Two of Many Things” made me a fan for life. Leigh’s vocals have been compared to Alison Krauss, but I detected a greater similarity with the early recordings of Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards. Like Edwards, Jones sings of heartbreak and longing, but the songs have a rhythmic urgency, pop-rock accessibility, and lyrics that lift them above mere angst. And when was the last time you heard the human condition distilled, i.e., the impossible choices we all face, into a pair of diametrically opposed couplets? “Getting back with you, getting over you, two of many things, I can’t seem to do.” Like Edwards’s best live work (and for guitar freaks like yours truly), the song felt like it could have included an extended improv section featuring Jeremy Elliott’s superb and tasteful lead guitar.
The lovely ballad, “Here in New Orleans,” followed, its allusions to the ghosts of that southern city emphasized by Elliot’s spooky leadwork. The next tune, the album’s title track, “Can’t Wait to Miss You,” is an expansive and ambitious composition featuring Aaron Guest’s keys and, to my ears, draws on Jones’s background in musical theatre.
Watch Eugenia Riot perform “Here in New Orleans” live from The Rye Room Sessions on YouTube:
Dressed in sparkly boots and the recently altered gown that she had worn on the new album’s cover, Jones quickly established a charming and confident stage presence, sprinkling witty banter throughout the set. The delightful “170 Delancey,” a tune written back in 2020, led into an energetic cover of Alanis Morissette’s “Right Through You” with Jones taking her spot at the drum kit. After the intensity of the Morissette tune, three ballads, “Step Up to the Line” (a new song), “October,” and “Still Morning” slowed things down. The night ended with a reprise of the show opener, “Easy Now (Part 2)” and the rocker, “Next Life” that featured Van Cleave’s driving percussion.
- Easy Now
- Wild Dream
- Two of Many Things
- Here in New Orleans
- Can’t Wait to Miss You
- 170 Delancey
- Right Through You (Alanis Morissette cover)
- Step Up to the Line
- Still Morning
- Easy Now (Part 2)
- Next Life
Jones earlier this year returned to Wilmington’s Thalian Hall to perform as part of the ensemble cast of “Ring of Fire,” a jukebox musical based on country legend Johnny Cash. She recently told the Star News, “I’ve been kind of itching to get back into theater. It was such a huge part of my life for so long, it was kind of like what I believed I would be doing with my life. Until I veered off in another direction.” The best journeys always do.
Please visit Eugenia Riot’s website for information on tour plans, new music, and videos.
Here are some more photos of Eugenia Riot performing at Bellingham’s Blue Room on May 14, 2023. All photos courtesy of and copyright Mark Caicedo/PuraVida Photography.