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Concert Review: Nooky Jones with D Mills & The Thrills

Katherine Kingsland
Cameron Kinghorn of Nooky Jones

Nooky Jones brought some soul to Bemidji along with Fargo hip hop band, D Mills and the Thrills. KAXE/KBXE on-air volunteer, Shane Kingsland went to the show at Rail River Folk School, and had this review for us (DISCLAIMER: this may make you really upset that you missed the show. In that case, don't miss out next time!):

This was my second time attending an event at the Rail River Folk School. The first was the KAXE Record Store Day music sale a couple years back. I was impressed with the potential of the venue back then, and have been anxiously waiting for the stars to align so I could take in a show there. Aged wood flooring, an overall feeling of roominess accommodated by vaulted ceilings, and ambiance provided by a chandelier strategically placed above the stage, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect & picturesque concert venue. A room that plays as much of a role in the evening’s event as the musical acts themselves.

Opening act D MILLS AND THE THRILLS are a 6-piece group from Fargo ND, fronted by the smooth-rhyming and energetic Diane Miller (aka D Mills). Funk, R&B and even reggae were not only present, but seamlessly interwoven in the music of  The Thrills, with D Mills thought-provoking lyrics being delivered at lightning speed with an articulate sense of clarity.  My most immediate first impression was how much fun this band was having. It was downright contagious, and kept a smile on my face throughout the duration of their set. We’ve all seen those sentimental signs you can buy for your home that conclude with the phrase: “Dance like nobody is watching”. Well that instantly came to mind when they took the stage and D Mills unleashed her signature dance moves, bursting with an unabashed sense of individuality. This is hip-hop that breaks down barriers with it’s wide appeal and instant accessibility. Fun, positive and superbly executed. The highlight of their set for me was 'Pay It Forward' (from their album On Your Mark), which features Andi Thoreson’s soulful vocal accompaniment, offering a great contrast to D’s sharp-as-a-razor vocal delivery.  A tough act to follow indeed…

I’ve listened to Minneapolis’ NOOKY JONES debut album a few times, and was primed for some horn-drenched retro Soul/R&B.  What I didn’t expect was the well-seasoned, finely-tuned and outright explosive live powerhouse this band has become.When frontman Cameron Kinghorn takes the stage in his shimmering blue suit, and the horn section (trumpet & trombone) steps into place, it’s evident that you’re in for a real treat.  

From the onset, this band set the dance floor ablaze!  Pounding out high-energy soul continuously from one tune to the next, showcasing the group’s internal chemistry as they exchange musical dialog between horns, piano/organ, bass and drums.  Utilizing the live format to maximum effect, Cameron introduced each player individually throughout their set, giving them time to shine and stretch out on an extended solo.

Lineage to the greats was established when they launched into a Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions cover, which fit well wedged between their original works. They wound their set down with their single “Hello”, and filed off stage before being cheered back out for an encore by the relentless crowd.

Bemidji (and surrounding communities) came out in full force for this event, to create a well attended, high-energy and positively thrilling evening, complete with a sweaty juke-joint vibe as the abundantly female audience dug out dance styles exclusively reserved for a late-night R&B show down by the river.

If you’ve been enjoying some of the Soul/R&B revival acts of recent years like Leon Bridges and Nathaniel Rateliff & the Nightsweats, Nooky Jones will fit nicely in your library right alongside them. I can’t recommend their live show enough, and feel grateful to Rail River Folk School for taking a chance and expanding our horizons with such a wonderful event.

- Shane Kingsland