Press & Reviews
The Mountain XPress
February 23, 2016
LONG-DISTANCE LOVE: After moving to Portland, Ore., where she launched her solo career, singer-songwriter Jane Kramer realized, "All I wanted to do was write mountain music, and I missed people on street corners with banjos.”
“Sometimes I’ll write songs and a few weeks or months later, I’ll live that experience,” says singer-songwriter Jane Kramer. The song “Truck Stop Stars” from her new album, Carnival of Hopes, is about a woman leaving a mountain town to cross the U.S. “To me, it foreshadowed my own drive back across the country to Asheville, but I wrote it before I made the decision to move,” she says.
In a way, the entire album — which Kramer will release with a show at The Grey Eagle Friday, Feb. 26 — is tied to the musician’s relocation from Portland back to Asheville where she’d lived previously. A Warren Wilson College graduate, Kramer was a member of the roots music trio Barrel House Mamas. “I’d spent most of my adult life here,” she says of Western North Carolina. But after “a lot of personal explosion,” including a break from her band, Kramer felt she needed a new place in which to reinvent herself.
Portland provided that proving ground. There, Kramer launched her solo career with a debut eponymous album. “Yet I went out there and realized all I wanted to do was write mountain music, and I missed people on street corners with banjos,” she says. As she began to pen material for Carnival of Hopes, “It became incredibly clear that I needed to record it in Asheville.”
She did that a year ago, working at Sound Temple Studio with producer Adam Johnson and a host of local musicians, including percussionist River Guerguerian and bassist Elliot Wadopian (both of Free Planet Radio), fiddler Nicky Sanders (Steep Canyon Rangers), cellist Franklin Keel (Sirius.B) and trombonist JP Furnas (Empire Strikes Brass), among others. It was that recording session that evinced to Kramer that she was ready to move back to WNC. By last summer, she was again based in Asheville.
The album leads with the swaying “Half Way Gone,” on which the fiddle sweeps and the bass struts. Kramer’s vocal glides between sorghum-sweet low notes and a breathy upper register, maintaining a wink the whole time. But even with its moments of levity and meet-cute two-steps, Carnival of Hopes is sincere.
“This new love of yours grows living things from dirt / I’ll bet she’s got tattoos on those sturdy arms of hers. / I can’t keep a houseplant alive and it ain’t no wondering why / you found some better arms than mine to call you home at night,” she sings on the title track. The song is full of staggering details: “I think God lives in the things that I don’t know,” and “This fellow here knows I like whiskey, he don’t know nothing about my heart.” If Kramer had to move 3,000 mile to benefit her songwriting, the effort paid off handsomely.
“In my songs, I feel like I have to be raw and honest and expose myself in ways that would make me flinch if I were speaking them,” she says. “In performing them, I’ve carved out this place for myself to be that honest and not regret it. It’s a wonderful fear that produces bravery.” The hope is, she adds, to connect with others and help them in their struggles.
Kramer grew up playing classical flute and, although her father is a classical guitar player in his free time, she never took guitar or voice lessons. “I rely on my ear and my intuition when I’m writing,” she says. Kramer describes the songwriting process as mysterious and elusive.
Her connection to Appalachian music is also enigmatic. “When I got to Warren Wilson, I was so enamored with learning about the culture of these mountains and storytelling,” she says. The members of The Barrel House Mamas bonded over those sounds and, though their songs weren’t necessarily historic ballads revisited, their instrumentation was distinctly Appalachian. “That was something that never left me,” Kramer says.
Though her current album moves beyond those roots, adding poetic verses, catchy melodies and the kind of personal insights that feel universal, “In my own songwriting I love to think that I’m collecting stories in a similar way.” Looking ahead, Kramer sets her sights on a European tour (there’s precedence — Carnival of Hopes has been out in Europe for a couple of months). She’s also excited about re-establishing herself as a performer in the Southeast and within the Asheville music scene.
Not that an icebreaker is needed, but Kramer’s decidedly local album release show seconds nicely as a welcome-back party.
Blue Ridge Outdoors
February 23, 2016
It’s good to be home.
That will most certainly be the sentiment on Friday, as songwriter Jane Kramer, who has long had ties with the Asheville area, returns to The Grey Eagle to celebrate the release of her brand new record, Carnival of Hopes.
Kramer, who studied at Warren Wilson College and made her musical mark in the region as part of The Barrel House Mamas, spent some years out west before returning to North Carolina last year.
Kramer is certainly hitting her stride on Carnival of Hopes, her second solo release. She embraces songwriting that runs through a gamut of emotions, with heartache, regret, fear, and hope resounding deeply in her lyrics, and each tune is delivered with a voice that only be described as one of the purest in modern Americana.
Carnival of Hopes is a steady stream of beauty and features a bevy of musicians well familiar to the Asheville scene. Nicky Sanders, long time fiddler for Steep Canyon Rangers, took part in the recording, as did Franklin Reel, cellist for Sirius B, and Eliot Wadopian, River Guerguerian, and Chris Rosser of Free Planet Radio. Many of these musicians, along with others from the record and many of Kramer’s Asheville friends, will be joining her on stage Friday night.
For evidence of just how good Jane Kramer is, check out the title track from the new record, which Trail Mix happily features this month.
Jane Kramer called Western North Carolina home for a time before venturing off. Now she has returned, complete with a rousing and powerful new record. Like the antique ferris wheel featured on her new disc, she has come full circle.
Asheville, NC singer/songwriter Jane Kramer released her second album on Feb. 26, 2016, as well as a music video of the title track “Carnival of Hopes.” The video premiered in Elmore Magazine, which praised Kramer’s “nostalgic, profound” lyrics and smooth vocals, as well as her Appalachian sound. Although the songs were written during Kramer’s four-year West Coast sabbatical in Portland, OR, she came home to record her new album.
Despite its West Coast origins, Carnival of Hopes is very much a product of the Asheville music scene. Kramer herself grew up in the area, attending local Warren Wilson College. As a young singer she performed with the Asheville-based all-female group, the Barrel House Mamas, who helped reintroduce Americana music to the Blue Ridge Mountains a decade ago. Jane released her first solo album, Break & Bloom, in 2013. Kramer credits the influence of her songwriting hero and mentor, Mary Gauthier, an Americana songstress known for her songs of misery and melody, for helping her craft her individual and very Appalachian style.
“Asheville is my dirt,” Kramer says on her website. “It’s my home and my culture, musically and otherwise. I missed it and knew somewhere in my bones I would be coming back to stay soon.”
The ten tracks of Carnival of Hopes were recorded in February, 2015 at Asheville’s famed Sound Temple Studios, and engineered and mastered by Kramer’s long time friend Adam Johnson of Sound Lab Studios, who has worked with such well-known artists as Alison Krauss and Yo Yo Ma.
All the tracks on the album are Kramer originals, except for a single cover of the somewhat obscure Tom Petty song, “Down South.”
Kramer is joined on Carnival of Hopes by some of the region’s top musicians. Major backing on the album comes from the personnel of world music trio Free Planet Radio, made up of Chris Rosser (piano, harmonium), Eliot Wadopian (upright bass) and River Guerguerian (drums, percussion). Two Georgia-based bluegrass musicians who frequently tour with Kramer, Pace Conner (steel string, high string & baritone guitars, ukulele, mandolin, backing vocals) and Michael Evers (Dobro, banjo, mandolin, backing vocals) add their multi-instrumental chops to the recording.
Nicky Sanders (orchestral fiddle) of the bluegrass group Steep Canyon Rangers and Franklin Keel (cello) of gypsy folk jazz group Sirius B play on “Good Woman.” Another track, the jazzy New Orleans style “Why’d I Do That Blues,” features a horn section comprised of JP Furnas of Empire Strikes Bass on trombone and Ben Hovey of HoveyKraft on trumpet. All are musicians well known on the Asheville scene, and come together to create a dynamic musical mix on Carnival of Hopes, despite their many individual styles.
'Break & Bloom' from US Americana artist Jane Kramer- Profound Statements and Searching Questions-
The first thing that strikes with 'Break & Bloom', the new album from Jane Kramer, is a voice that compels you to listen to the depth of feeling that pervades her songs. Then, there are the piercing lyrics that pour through the human condition, relating stories, incidents and experiences that touch us. Add melodies that inspire and linger as they slide through your ears to fix themselves in your mind, and you have an album that will stay with you for some time to come.
The themes that shift across a selection of songs that range through confusion and understanding, love and loss, honesty and reflection. Jane delivers them in a voice that moves faultlessly through her emotive lyrics to express scenes and disclose feelings with a startling honesty.
The arrangements are simple; precisely what's needed to allow the poetic words the space to be heard. There's the quiet questing soul of 'Georgia', the resigned acceptance mixed with personal resilience within 'Nobody's Woman Tonight', and the deep-seated understanding of 'Hold My Whiskey'- a stunningly perceptive song. Listening to 'Mourning Dove', I found myself wandering down a sharp lane of memory ; others will simply find it moving, while the gentle observations of 'Plant Me a Willow Tree' will take people places they have been before and will not fail to recognize.
'Break & Bloom' makes profound statements and asks searching questions as the artist takes the listener along on a journey that is easy to share.
Jane Kramer, Break & Bloom (available from Jane Kramer's web site)
Exposure to Jane Kramer's bittersweet musical creations has been likened to drowning in molasses, and this captivating performer's first full-lengh solo album should certainly be required listening for anyone who enjoys the work of similarly gifted singer-songwriters such as Natalie Merchant, Guy Clark, or the criminally under-rated Malcolm Holcombe. Eloquent honesty and a rare ability to conjure timeless melodies out of the ether are the hallmarks of Jane's endearing approach to music-making, with the beguiling opener, "Georgia" and "Mourning Dove" capturing the Oregon based artist at her brilliant best.
'Break & Bloom'- Jane Kramer- self released
The debut release from Portland, Oregon resident and American Folk artist. The eleven songs featured here are very impressive and point to the emergence of a serious talent. Previously a member of bands like The Barrel House Mamas and Firefly Revival, this voyage toward a solo career is well made and perfectly timed to benefit from her experience and maturity. Kramer has a wonderfully expressive vocal and the insights of a life lived and reflections of lessons learned are perfectly captured in songs like Nobody's Woman Tonight, Hold My Whiskey, One Precious Life, That Muddy Water, and the album closer, the traditional song How Far Am I From Canaan.