Short Quotes

As you listen you’ll be able to imagine them on the stage at the Grand Ole Opry of a Saturday night. – Susie Glaze, Folkworks

 

Jeni Hankins is one of the true heiresses to the Mountain Crown of Maybelle Carter, June Carter, Hazel Dickens, and Sarah Ogan Gunning. Call it good. Call it authentic. Call me anytime Jeni is signing and Billy is singing and playing by her side. – Rob Weir, Sing Out

 

As fine a slice of delicate, bruised and uplifting roots music you’ll hear in a while. – Paul Kerr, Blabber & Smoke (UK)

 

Jeni & Billy have a deceptively simple style that will catch you completely by surprise. Some of the best southern music I have heard in a very long time. – Tom Druckenmiller, Sing Out

 

Jeni's songs spring from the true vine.  Steeped in a sense of place and community, Jeni's lyrics reflect the hardships,trials and sorrows of people whose lives have not been easy, yet they also resonate with humor, spirit and a deep and abiding faith and dignity. She has an old fashioned, old style country voice that perfectly fits the songs she chooses. Billy is the perfect partner, skillfully accompanying Jeni with guitar, banjo and harmonies. They chat with the audience, tell stories, and leave the audience feeling like they've just had a visit with old friends. These two are tradition bearers - the next generation of traditional music. – Mary Smith, Richmond Folk Music Society

 

Jeni and Billy's stunningly original music is as old as the hills, yet brand new at the same time. The spare, simple arrangements not only showcase their musical talents but also highlight the brilliant writing; for Jeni is a true poet and a born storyteller, through and through---many of these songs contain whole novels. Lee Smith – Award-winning author of Fair & Tender Ladies, On Agate Hill, and more than twenty other notable Southern novels

 

Totally genuine and beautifully melodic sounds. – Maverick Magazine (UK)

 

Sing Out Magazine

In the early days of the recording industry much of what we today call folk, country, and old-time music was called “hillbilly” music. That’s because the hills and hollows of Appalachia were a treasure trove raided by urbanized “song catchers” (academic collectors). Many of them mistakenly thought that all American folk songs and tunes were variants of British Isles imports. They soon learned that Appalachia was far more than music preserved in amber—the region also contained great original composers. And since those days, there have always been a number of women whose stars shined slightly brighter. In the (recorded) beginning there was Sarah (1898-1979) and Maybelle Carter (1909-1978) from Virginia. Slightly later those with recording machines came calling upon Kentuckians Aunt Molly Jackson (1880-1960) and her half sister Sarah Ogan Gunning (1910-1987). Still later we got Loretta Lynn (1932-) from Butcher Hollow, KY, June Carter (1929-2003) from Maces Spring, VA, and Jean Ritchie (1922-) from Viper, KY. So who are the heiresses to the Mountain Crown?

 

If you find yourself in a discussion that doesn’t include Jeni Hankins of southwestern Virginia, walk away – it’s not worth your time. Hankins’ approach is often compared to that of Hazel Dickens (1925-2011) and aptly so. Though Hankins has a smoother, less nasal voice than Dickens, it has the same born-in-the-bone twang – the kind you don’t get by dressing up country and scouring songbooks. Hankins also grew up in the same contiguous coal mine region that spawned Dickens, and with the same sensibilities: an appreciation for the grace of ordinary people, mountain gospel music, support for miners’ unions, and a gift for finding beauty where less attuned people fail to see it. Think I’m kidding about that last point? In “Good,” a song co-written with her musical partner Billy Kemp, the duo muse on coal mining, Sears Roebuck, Hardshell Baptists, and banjos. The banjo wins: “And he played us a tune from the old country/and the hills, they rang with our song/God said it was good/and we knew that it was good.” Even more impressive is “McHenry Street, a song inspired when the duo spotted kids making banners from trash can castoffs in Kemp’s native Baltimore.

 

Picnic in the Sky is filled with small moments that seem more sublime when stripped of glitter and hype. This time the band is bigger – David Jackson (bass, accordion), Denny Weston, Jr. (percussion), Dillon O’Brian (keyboards, vocals), Dave Way (claps, feet), David Keenan (steel guitar), and Craig Eastman (fiddles, fretwork), an old acquaintance of mine whose work I’ve admired for decades. We get a veritable potpourri: “The Robin & the Banjo,” Jeni’s wedding song reworking of “Froggy Went A-Courtin’;” “The Old Hotel,” an illicit love song; the dust-and-tedium-meets-dreams “The Mill Hurries On;” and gospel refracted through Jane Eyre on “Reckoning Day.” Remember Joe Hill’s “The Preacher and the Slave?” Check out this album’s title track, a gentler shade of caustic with yellow squash and biscuits substituting for Hill’s pie, but the same hard questions about a future “heavenly reward.” Call it “Good.” Call it authentic. Call me anytime Ms. Hankins is singing and Kemp is picking, flailing, and singing by her side.

Author of Fair & Tender Ladies and On Agate Hill

On Longing for Heaven:  Jeni Hankins and I share the special bond of childhoods spent in the mountains of far southwest Virginia, Grundy and Jewell Ridge, not twenty miles apart----and her true sense of place shines through in every one of these authentically Appalachian songs. Jeni and Billy's stunningly original music is as old as those hills, yet brand new at the same time.The spare, simple arrangements not only showcase their musical talents but also highlight the brilliant writing; for Jeni is a true poet and a born storyteller, through and through---many of these songs contain whole novels. Of course my own favorite is "Sally Kincaid"---but then, I'm prejudiced!

Blabber and Smoke

Funny how things come back to haunt you. Well, not haunt exactly but Jeni & Billy got in touch with Blabber’n’Smoke a few months ago asking if we wanted a copy of their new album, Picnic In The Sky. Back in 2010, we listened to their album, Longing For Heaven describing it as the sparse folk sound of the mountains and backwoods folk, god fearing, hardworking, scraping a living but finding joy in family and friends and giving it a big thumbs up. And so it was that Picnic In The Sky winged its way here. It’s fair to say that all we said about Longing For Heaven could be said about Picnic In The Sky with one caveat. The duo’s sparse sound is supplanted by some accompanying musicians, a situation that was not planned per se but came about as a result of some serendipitous goings on including a waitress taking a food order and then disappearing for some time. 

The result is an album of Jeni & Billy with Craig Eastman, David Jackson, Denny Weston Jnr. and Dillon O’Brian filling in on fiddle, slide guitar, lap steel, mandolin, bass, accordion, drums, keyboards, claps, feet, shovel, rake and baking pan (!). It’s still raw country music, still what you might expect to hear on a porch, just this time you might need a bigger porch. The expanded instrumentation does allow for a degree of sophistication with The Days Of The Blue Tattoo, a song about a white woman captured by Yavapai Native Americans, brimming with lush guitars, bar room piano, accordion and fiddle and sounding for all the world like an Emmylou Harris song from the late seventies. However it’s testament to their homespun qualities that the band songs retain an earthiness that harks back to the early recordings of The Carter Family with the two best examples being Are You Meant For Me and The Mill Hurries On, the latter being the song that features the shovel and rake percussion on a wonderfully woozy and sepia stained waltz. There are numerous delights here with the opening song, The Robin & The Banjo an excellent example of raw Appalachian music complete with flatfoot dance steps while Picnic In The Sky flies along borne on lilting slide guitar as it paints a picture of bygone days. And for anyone hankering for the simplicity of their earlier recordings there’s The Old Hotel, a plaintive and raw monochrome capture of a desperate lover, armed with a gun and a fifty dollar bill, returning to that hotel looking for the will and the way to end it all. Great stuff indeed.

Jeni Hankins assures me that she and Billy Kemp will be in Scotland next year. In the meantime this is as fine a slice of delicate, bruised and uplifting roots music you’ll hear in a while.

Taplas

Three Chords and the Truth

Faith, family, tradition and love are the key ingredients that fuel the music of Jeni Hankins and Billy Kemp and all are to be found in abundance on their new album PICNIC IN THE SKY. This hastily arranged project for the Nashville based couple was an opportunity too good to turn down as they headed west to LA after a chance meeting with producer Dave Way. The result is probably their most complete album to date without losing any of the legitimacy that marks their core Appalachian sound. If anything the widening of instrumental input from the assembled session musicians, given the temporary accolade of the Big Picnic Band, has enhanced the vocal elegance of Jeni and the effectiveness of the harmony driven duets with Billy. 

For the record, Billy is a city boy from Baltimore chasing the country dream while Jeni is a country girl from West Virginia living the country dream. Together they make sweet music as rooted in the sound of their ideal rural surroundings as you could expect. Inspired by her ancestral heritage and dreamy summers on Smith Ridge, Jeni recounts the tales of her youth with vibrant pride and entwines them with the romantic musings of literary giants like Austin, Bronte and Gaskell.  The positive, melodic and spiritual vibes are etched into the core of the record and in no finer detail than the standout title track ‘Picnic in the Sky’ with the striking line ‘frozen dinners were a special treat listening to radio obituaries’ painting a vivid nostalgic picture. 

All eleven tracks are originals, although spanning a near decade in their composition. Perhaps Jeni and Billy had to dig deep into their song locker to ensure this golden opportunity was maximised. Billy especially had the freedom to relinquish his engineer duties to concentrate on guitar, banjo, harmonica and piano as well as sharpening up his vocal contributions. The duets are aplenty including the classic country waltz ‘Reckoning Day’ and the throwback style ‘The Old Hotel’ where for a moment Jeni and Billy almost revert back to their normal duo status. 

As we have come accustomed to on Jeni and Billy recordings, the stories are told in clear prose with ‘McHenry Street’being inspired by a sighting on the streets of Billy’s home city Baltimore and ‘The Days of the Blue Tattoo’ re-telling a story of Olive Oatman who was captured and subsequently released by tribes in the Gold Rush days. One of the most redeeming features of the record is the beautifully presented and highly informative packaging. However this is only to be expected from a duo which extol fierce pride in their work and come over even more sincere if you attend one of their live shows. 

From an album which starts with an up tempo re-write of the traditional Froggy Went a-Courtin’ song, titled ‘The Robin and the Banjo’ and ends with the haunting gospel tones of ‘Made as New’, the rest is filled with a glowing assortment of fiddle, steel, banjo, mandolin and a multitude of percussion to convey the convincing message Jeni and Billy want to relay through music and song. The duo have created a tight touring niche in the UK over the last few years and maybe PICNIC IN THE SKY will be the record to engage with a wider audience in the country, roots, Americana and folk communities.

Maverick Magazine

Anyone who’s seen Appalachian duo Jeni & Billy live will have been holding their breath for this album. You will be delighted they have released this live collection of their “hits,” complete with Jeni Hankins’ riveting and delightful explanations behind each song. Each and every story will make you laugh or cry, whether it’s the tale of the grave of her moonshining great-grandpa or her Uncle Roy Lee’s beloved pink car. The way she describes cedar trees swaying in the breeze or a young child’s innocence in the face of adult alcoholism is almost as pleasing as listening to her bell-like vocals and Billy Kemp’s deft plucking. This is a lovely album for anyone who yearns for authenticity in their music. – Hazel Davis, Maverick Magazine, 2013

Sing Out Magazine

Jeni & Billy have a deceptively simple style that will catch you completely by surprise. Longing for Heaven is certainly some of the best southern music I have heard in a very long time.

Bluegrass Unlimited

Duet partners Jeni Hankins and Billy Kemp have brought impressive measures of inspiration, artistry, and austerity in this minimalist collection of old-time ballads, heartsongs, and spirituals.

The focus of Jeni & Billy’s fourth CD, as heard on the lovely Sacred Harp classic title tune, is otherworldly affairs. A standout in this category, along with the title song, is their original, “Father Will You Meet Me In Heaven,” a powerful elegy for Johnny Cash’s older brother, Jack, who was killed in a gruesome childhood accident. The duo’s rendition of “On A Hill Lone And Gray,” inspired by Ralph Stanley, is also heartfelt and moving.

Hankins is the soulful wellspring of this collaboration. Born and raised in Virginia coal country, she brings a writer’s and singer’s finely nuanced ear to the cadences and imagery of her native Appalachia. You can hear this gift on “The Ballad Of Sally Kincaid” and “Cecil Roberts’ Hand.” These originals and others stand proud alongside covers of traditionals such as “Single Girl” and “I Saw A Man At The Close Of The Day.”

Kemp, a gifted multi-instrumentalist with an impressive list of studio and road credentials, also does some of the writing. But his major contribution is framing these songs with austere and subtle acoustic arrangements built on various combinations of guitar, banjo, bass, mandolin, harmonica, and occasional fiddle from Shad Cobb. (Jewell Ridge Records, 2126 Yank Rd., Mt. Gilead, NC 27306) 

Director of the Richmond Folk Music Society

 

Since the Richmond Folk Music Society is primarily dedicated to traditional folk music, we rarely book singer/songwriters for our concert series.  We made a exception for Jeni Hankins and Billy Kemp, and we're glad we did.  Jeni's songs spring from the true vine.  Steeped in a sense of place and community, her lyrics reflect the hardships,trials and sorrows of people whose lives have not been easy, yet they also resonate with humor, spirit and a deep and abiding faith and dignity.    Jeni was raised in Tazewell County, Virginia, in the heart of coal mining country, and she draws the audience into the lives of the miners, their families and the little community of Jewel Ridge.  She has an old fashioned, old style country voice that perfectly fits the songs she chooses.   Billy is the perfect partner, skillfully accompanying Jeni with guitar, banjo and harmonies.  They chat with the audience, tell stories, and leave the audience feeling like they've just had a visit with old friends.  When they perform traditional songs, such as "Pretty Fair Miss" or "Single Girl, Married Girl" they do a cracking job of it.  These two are tradition bearers - the next generation of traditional music.
 

 

 

The Fox Valley Folk Festival

Jeni & Billy were not only a landmark success with the audience at the 33rd Annual Fox Valley Folk Music & Storytelling Festival, but also had nearly all of our veteran performers and volunteers raving as well. I had many of our national and regional performers tell me that Jeni & Billy's music was their most exciting discovery in quite some time.

Directors of The Woods Music & Dance Camp, Ontario, Canada

Their open, authentic and honest approach to their music and to others made them instant members of the musical community.Their expertise and clearness of expression made their classes and workshops very effective.

Their endearing personalities and excellent musicianship would be an asset to any musical event.

We look forward to having Jeni and Billy back to Toronto and would recommend them for any camp or workshop event where excellent musicianship and wonderful people are valued!

Director of the Living Traditions Concert Series, Anaheim, CA

I first saw Jeni and Billy perform at the FAR-West 2009 conference where, like everybody else I talked to, I was blown away with their presentation of Appalachian-roots style music. Nearly a year later, they made their first appearance on our stage and completely charmed our audience. The heartfelt music they write and perform so well and their sweet unassuming presence on and off stage made for a wonderful evening for the audience, presenters and volunteers. I give Jeni & Billy the highest possible recommendation.

KDVS

For all folkies who are looking for traditional music, we have Jeni & Billy.  They "Get It" as I've told my listeners.  Jeni & Billy understand and, be it a traditional song or a song in the tradition, what they do is real gift to music.  With spare instrumentals and sweet harmonies, "Longing for Heaven" is a dream CD and every song is a joy to play.

Blabber & Smoke - Glasgow

Jeni and Billy trade in the same homespun feel as the Quebes although it belongs on the back porch as opposed to bars and dance halls. Theirs is the sparse folk sound of the mountains and backwoods folk, god fearing, hardworking, scraping a living but finding joy in family and friends. The pair play guitar, banjo and mandolin while Jeni Hankins carries the vocals with Billy Kemp adding counterpoint. Together they create a warm, honest sound as natural as flowers in a field. With a mixture of traditional and original songs they sing of drunkards, jilted lovers and ruined lives. Half of these songs could be turned into tear-stained movies, “The Ballad of Sally Kincaid” tells of a girl seduced by a thieving preacher who hangs himself leaving her to end her days in shame. “Father Will You meet Me In Heaven” is the story of Johnny cash’s brother, Jack’s tragic death seen as a redemptive moment for their father’s godless ways. A previous album, Jewell Ridge Coal, documented the lives of miners in south-west Virginia and here they sing a song for Cecil Roberts, the President of the United Mine Workers of America. It’s a reminder that even these days mining is dangerous, deadly even.
A pretty stunning album for anyone into old-time Americana. Jeni and Billy are currently touring in England.

Maverick Magazine

Totally genuine and beautifully melodic sounds . . . Longing for Heaven is recommended.

Folk And Roots, UK

Although it was actually recorded in a secluded cabin in the Carolina mountains in the dead of winter, Longing For Heaven is a wonderfully warm record, an album of companionship and quiet magic, and once under Jeni and Billy’s spell you’ll want to remain thus; longing for more of this heavenly kind of music in fact.

Folkingcool

Jeni & Billy's latest album – Longing For Heaven – plopping on my doormat this morning has given me more joy than I can express and if I seem hyperbolic it’s because That’s What They Do To You.

Performing Songwriter & Activist

Jewell Ridge Coal is the best CD by new folk/edge of bluegrass artists I’ve heard in a long time. Jeni’s singing sounds to me like a cross between the young Hazel Dickens and the young Iris DeMent. The songs . . . range from raw and powerful to sweet and funny. The instrumental work . . . is excellent; the harmony singing is just what you’d want it to be.

Grammy Winning Americana & Bluegrass Artist

Jeni & Billy are artists I admire a lot — the acoustic Buddy and Julie Miller. They are truly a treasure.

Maverick Magazine

"A sweet and surprising high point [of the Beverley Folk Festival] was the Appalachian duo Jeni Hankins and Billy Kemp. Singing songs from the Southwest Virginia coal mines, the pair melted hearts with songs like Tazewell Beauty Queen and Back Then, a heartbreaking tale of tragic love. Jeni Hankins' smile-infused Mother Maybelle voice was . . . perfect."

Dirty Linen

In recent years it's been practically considered a given that the writing of coal-mining songs is a thing of the past, but lo and behold, along comes an album of new songs related to, or inspired by, the coal-mining lifestyle. Jeni Hankins is the granddaughter of coal miners, so she is well steeped in the tradition. Her mournful vocals compare favorably with other Appalachian old-time folks singers . . . the accompaniment is always very spare, and the performances are never rushed . . . Jewell Ridge Coal is a very worthy addition to a genre that may not be so antiquated after all.

Feminist Review

I found Jeni & Billy's second album Jewell Ridge Coal to be like Billy Elliot meets the Mamas and the Papas meets Dolly Parton. A little bit bluegrass, a little bit folk, and all original, the music feels simultaneously familiar and completely new. Their combination creates this powerful and unique flavor, and they sound so natural together, it feels calming and clear. Its as if you were there sitting on a back porch in old-timey South and they were right there with you and just stumbled upon some instruments.

Now & Then: Journal of Appalachian Culture

Jewell Ridge Coal, is steeped in the traditions of the mines and the families whose lives depended on them. The production is simple and uncluttered; the lead instrument is clearly the voice of Jeni, for whom these songs are like members of the family.

WVBR, Ithaca, NY

I am very impressed with Jeni & Billy. Jewell Ridge Coal is quite the concept piece, beautiful to look at and listen to. I haven't been so swept away by any one CD since Gillian Welch's Revival came out.

WFHB Community Radio, Bloomington, Indiana

Jewell Ridge Coal is really and truly a wonderful piece of work. The songs are fantastic, and Jeni, your voice is so beautiful it makes me want to cry. I will play it extensively on my radio show. Thanks so much for this gift. May you make many more like it.

Program Coordinator, East and South Naples Branch Libraries, Naples, FL

Everyone at all the libraries told me how complimentary our patrons were that attended your performances. The stories, music and your genuine enthusiasm captured everyone. Thank you for sharing your story and teaching us a little about your part of our country. Definitely we would love to have you back next year.

A radio listener who also happens to draw swell comix responds to "Chicken Ridge" on his blog -- this is one of our very favorite reviews ever: When this track came on the radio on a sunny fall Sunday while driving around the Bronx, Jeni’s and Billy’s voices transported me away from the crumbling warehouses and over-paved neighborhoods to the Appalachian wilderness. There’s no narrative to the lyrics, but these two voices, guitar and banjo take you on a personal audio tour of a sad and beautiful place.

IBMA Special Projects Director

Jeni Hankins and Billy Kemp present original songs with an authentic, old-time edge.

Public Service Librarian, Collier County Public Library System, Naples Regional Library

Musical programs are always well received at our library, but you two really impressed our patrons.  I cannot remember the last time I was so inundated with praise for a performance.  Not only were your musical talents lauded, but so were your stories and personal histories.  I would highly recommend your Jewell Ridge Coal program to any library looking for an entertaining and educational program to wow their patrons.

House Concert Promoter, Beverley Yorkshire, England

Anyone who enjoyed Kathy Mattea’s masterly Coal would almost certainly enjoy Jeni and Billy’s equally well crafted Jewell Ridge Coal. All self-penned numbers. it’s an often moving but never mawkish tribute to the coal mining community of Southwest Virginia . . . the haunting fragile vocals of Jeni and the subtle instrumentation of Billy that are the real highlights.

The Saturday Morning Folk Show, KDVS, UC-Davis, Davis, CA

Oh my gosh! What a wonderful CD. I played two cuts this morning and raved to my listeners about it! Terrific job! “Miner’s Reward” made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Amazing.

"The Back Porch" on WVPE, Elkhart, IN

Jeni & Billy's is one awesome recording. It has seen airplay on my show . . . A worthy addition to any radio music library.

"Come All Ye" on CSU Radio, Bathurst, NSW, Australia

Jeni Hankins' vocals are captivating and her songs paint interesting pictures of life in the coalfields.

Adult Services Librarian, Erlanger Branch, Kenton County Public Library, KY

The music of Jeni & Billy is a perfect complement to library programs. Our patrons loved their sound, and the interesting, contextual stories that accompanied each song. Jeni & Billy were a delight to work with. I hope to schedule them again some time. Highly recommended.

Bristol Herald-Courier, Bristol, VA/TN

Jeni & Billy provide acoustic music lovingly dressed with graceful phrasing and old-time charm. It's soothing, relaxing, heartfelt, and richly steeped in the traditions of old-time country and bluegrass.

Founder & Director of CultureWorks Collective & musician and band leader of the U-liners

What a joy and a treat to hear new original tunes about coal mining! All the while weaving in your past, the things that haunt your heart and bring you joy. Great song writing and very moving presentation! Congratulations! You've produced a great work of art that has an important message today. And to pay tribute to Nimrod, Barbara, and Hazel along the way -- that's so great!

The John Shelton Ivany Top 21

I didn't think they made albums as powerful as the one by Jeni and Billy anymore.

Performing Songwriter & Producer

being a natural cynic, whenever i meet people like jeni and billy (i.e. old fashioned good people who aren't mollified by shiny objects and hung up newfangled technology and worried about record labels and the next deal etc.) i unfortunately recoil back and cock my head and say "are you for real?" it's a sad commentary on the times (or perhaps my circle of friends) but i can honestly say that jeni and billy are definitely "for real". their music is like a great undiscovered carter family cd that was buried in a vault for 70 years without the crackling and tape hiss. their new cd jewel ridge coal tell stories of real rural blue collar in a simple and honest way without clutter and over the top headbashing (like montgomery gentry without montgomery or gentry). being from appalachia myself, perhaps these sounds are in my dna, but i believe that anyone with an open mind will love this disc. with guest appearances by shad cobb and jim lauderdale, it should open up jeni and billy to new ears. i am usually put off by modern artists trying to recreate the great and honest music of the past, but jeni and billy do it so convincingly that i don't even think that recreating an older genre was the intention-i believe that it is just what comes out when they sing so here's to them doing much more of that-

Performing Songwriters

I can't tell you how many times we have listened to your CD now. It is our favorite. It feels to me like a great novel where I've come to know and love the characters so much that I find myself thinking about them as though they are real and am so absorbed in their stories that it's sad when the book comes to an end. We find ourselves humming these melodies and turn to each other and realize yet again that it was one of your tunes that we're humming. When we listen now we know most of the words to many of them. I have to tell you, it is not like me to go on so about someone else's music, but yours has touched both Fran and I on a deep level where music and inspiration come from...The roots....

Performing Songwriter

I love your music, simply because it's the truth!

Like the old language of ballads, Jeni and Billy share a special language between them. Jeni’s voice is so alive – carrying babies and earth and thunderstorms in her voice – I’ve never seen someone embody a song like she does. It looks like the music is coursing through her blood, it is her life, her ancestry, her movements and this creates an authentic, powerful voice. It’s very powerful when Billy harmonizes with her, like a shadow on the mountain. I like how his hands hang on the notes, letting go of strings, like a drop of water on the underside of a leaf, like an angel jumping from cloud to cloud. The story of Jeni & Billy's music reflects a deep connection with a sense of home, place, family . . . I want to hold my breath while I listen to them sing, so that I don’t disturb the sacred magic of their harmony. They both sit hunched over their guitars, cradling them, leaning into the music like holding a baby or a cup of tea. It’s fun to watch two people play with words, with music, and truly have fun and enjoy the process. Jeni is all smiles and cheekbones, and a little yelp of glee and joy. You can tell that hearing Billy sing and play brings her great joy. Watching them perform together is pure bliss.

As a singer and entertainer, Jeni is so aware and in control of what she is doing, yet it still seems like the music takes her away; it takes over like a spirit has moved her. Indeed, no one can sing “Pretty Fair Miss” quite like Jeni and Billy. When they sang the final stanza, it came across as one of the single greatest acts of love I have ever witnessed. Only another man/woman duo so in love with each other and so talented musically could come close to the magic displayed by Jeni and Billy, and what a special and rare occurrence that combination must be.

Jeni and Billy's visit to my graduate class on ballads, followed by their wonderful concert later that evening, was a highlight of the summer. Their combination of enormous musical talent with an obvious delight in literary discussion makes them especially effective within such an educational setting.

We enjoyed having you here so much--I heard lots of positive feedback about the tone you set for the event--very warm and laid back. We like to have an intimate gathering with music that connects to the audience and yours certainly did. I listened to your CD and I was struck by it--there's a vocal blend there that calls to mind Gillian Welch.

Singer, songwriter, and co-owner of Cotten Music Center

you guys were totally wonderful last night.... i can't get middle creek out of my mind. i think it' s my new main fave. brilliant delivery last night...every thing, every note, every pause, every nuance. totally perfect.

Singer and co-owner of Cotten Music Center

When I'd mentioned on my blog, I had a good idea of how the evening would be, I must say, it exceeded what I even knew! You guys are wonderful..... such magic between the two of you up there on the stage.... You are just naturals!!! I expect this is just the tip of the iceberg.... You all are GREAT.... better than anything I've seen in quite a while..... I can't wait for more.....

"Jeni Hankins and Billy Kemp are a delight! Their songs make me want to sing them. I look forward to hearing more!"

Jeni and Billy have such a great handle on that old style of stuff...it's incredible. They’re the real deal.

IF YOU LIKED THE MOVIE "WALK THE LINE"...you'll love the music of Jeni Hankins and Billy Kemp. Our own Johnny and June, or maybe Porter and Dolly.

I thoroughly enjoyed every minute Jeni and Billy were onstage.

Jeni and Billy are found people.

Hollywood, VA, native of Richlands, VA, the town where Jeni was born

I left Richlands in 85 as soon as I graduated. My family was 5 generations of Jewell Ridge Coal Miners. I left the town to avoid becoming what most are -- “tied to the coal fields.” For many years I felt confused -- like I had turned my back on my roots, but after listening to your CD it just reaffirmed it was the correct move for me. My life is full of happiness. For the very 1st time someone has put the true meaning of the coalfields into a manner all can understand. Before it was just a very misunderstood way of life. Also you managed to bring back good memories that I had long forgotten. You have my respect as an artist. Excellent Work!!!

Fan Letter

We got this letter from a fan back in Jeni's hometown of Richlands, VA, and were really glad to have made his day, so we thought we'd share his letter with you. Thanks Gary! Hi Jeni and Billy, I am writing from Richlands, Virginia. I left the area back in 1975, lived in a number of states, and only recently returned. All of your songs are great! I especially liked "Back Then" and "I'm Not Your Girl." Then, second most I liked "Hard-Bitten" and "Sweet & Toxic." Jeni, your voice has the melody of an angel and the power of a locomotive! Billy, your acoustics are some of the finest I have ever heard! Jeni, the powerful emotion in your voice is soul stirring. Your voice is reminiscent of Maria McKee and Janis Joplin. Your Friend, Gary