Jennifer Westwood and the Handsome Devils
From the September, 2017 issue
Vocalist Jennifer Westwood and her band the Handsome Devils may be the bar band of the moment right now--they're playing about 200 dates a year, most of them in Michigan. On her website the group is billed as a Detroit "blues-rock" band with "heavy influences" of classic Americana, soul, and country." Yet at the 2017 Detroit Music Awards, her three awards were all in the country category.
It's not really a contradiction. Westwood grew up singing in a Holy Roller church, and her vocals recall a time when the boundaries between genres were blurred. "There is plenty of church in the music I perform still," she told the Metro Times. "We feed off of the energy of the moment and enjoy experiencing that with whoever may be listening."
Westwood opened a recent set in the Mash basement bar with Jimmie Rodgers' 1927 "T for Texas," the point of departure for the long relationship between country and blues. The song laid out Westwood's tough, sexy alto and the fine duo guitar work from her band, and it got people dancing. Lately, it's been rare to have a band out this way that can fill a dance floor with lowdown country music, but Westwood did it. She moved forward into more recent country and rock material that has a bluesy tinge, like the Georgia Satellites' "Keep Your Hands to Yourself," and, in a slower moment, Dolly Parton's "Jolene."
As the set went on, the music shifted gradually from country to blues and blues-rock. Westwood seems to seek out songs, like Bruce Springsteen's "Fire," that were originally done by male artists or have an outwardly male perspective; other appearances have featured a muscular take on the Rolling Stones' "Ventilator Blues." She has the attitude to carry this off, and the Handsome Devils have the chops to hold your interest with a big barroom electric blues sound. As they stretch out, though, the music becomes less danceable and the crowd mills around in front of the stage instead.
Westwood proudly proclaims herself a Detroiter, and she shows that the city's older roots music traditions are alive and well. "We have grit," she says. "There is an attitude of 'Try me, and see if I can't.'" Jennifer Westwood and the Handsome Devils return to Mash September 7.
[Originally published in September, 2017.]
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