To start before the beginning: While I was still in my mother’s womb I heard my father playing old- time mountain music on banjo and fiddle, so by the time I arrived I was already suffering from an incurable love of songs. At that time my parents were newly married and working hard on the “river” farm, now known as Riverplains, in East Tennessee. It lies in a beautiful, fertile valley by the Holston River, in the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains. My father and two of his brothers, along with my mother’s help too, were running a good-sized dairy farm then. From my early childhood I remember most: lots of family and get togethers, animals (horses were my favorite), music, and the enchanting landscape of the area -- rolling hills and pastureland, shady tree groves, winding creeks and rivers.
I began writing my own songs after my father taught me to play guitar around age 11. (I still use that guitar today, a battered LG2 Gibson from 1942.) Songwriting began for me as a way to lift my poetry off the page, and in many ways that has not changed.
By high school I was singing with a band, and when I was 20 I made my first album -- a simple, solo affair that duly recorded the deeply introspective bent my art had taken.
By 21 I was in Nashville, looking for signs and trying to follow footsteps. I had newly become mesmerized by Townes Van Zandt (he died that same year), and Lucinda Williams…I wanted to be known as a songwriter, but I couldn’t escape my own unconventional stylings. Instinctually I think I knew I would never be embraced by Nashville, even by the so-called “Alternative Country” set (what they called Americana back then). Inevitably though, from day one I learned a lot from that town. Early on I found myself on stage with musicians at least twice my age and they all had advice to give. Some of them would tell me I had a mysterious quality to my songs that made me stand apart. Of course a somewhat naïve, young woman is more often than not going to be welcomed in - at least at first - by older male musicians. Dynamics get more complicated a little later down the road.
After finishing school I moved away, got married and moved around a bit (got divorced), then found myself back in Nashville a few years later.
This stretch in the Music City lasted seven years or so. During that time I made an EP called Seven Songs and what I considered my first “real” full length album (Luminous), with Joe McMahan. Those years found me longing terribly for the countryside back home in East Tennessee, while I stuck it out in the margins of East Nashville. I was working as a waitress, struggling in various ways as most “starving artists” do. During those years the music business changed dramatically. I forged ahead as an independent musician and made somewhat of a name for myself locally; got great reviews for performances in NYC and played Austin City Limits Festival and Bonnaroo in 2007. Luminous was reviewed favorably by local critics and No Depression... I have often thought that what career momentum I had going by 2008 had been won by blood, sweat, and tears, as they say, and in retrospect it seems a shame to have left it hanging in the air with nothing to do but evaporate.
But that is what happens when you run away, and run away I did.
From my perspective the next chapter of my life seesaws between total salvation and near annihilation. Meaning, I went back home again. I left Nashville, the musical life I had built there, and returned to Riverplains.
I have said that it saved my life in that being back on the farm – and actually learning to farm – grounded me, and I needed that desperately. I learned so much about so many things during that time. But I also stepped away from music, stepped away from feeling worthy of being an artist, even as songs still came from time to time. Even as my personal artistic vision refused to die.
In 2011 I recorded an EP called Body+Soul with Jon Estes at Nashville’s renowned Bomb Shelter studio. Then in 2014 I recorded Birdlight, again with Jon, this time in his home studio. Listening to these songs now the core of the struggle that had a hold on me is clear. To me it is an album about loss and hope, darkness and light, the pull of cycles and seasons…I did not really know where I was heading when I wrote those songs. I do think I knew it was going to be turbulent waters.
(Now nearly 4 years later I am living far from the farm. And far from Nashville too. I followed a dream to live in the American West and currently reside in Colorado.)
In the summer of 2016 I went back to Nashville once more. It was a transition time that helped me understand my place in the scheme of things again. And right before I left a year later, I recorded a new album with Eric McConnell in his fabled East Nashville studio/house, 1311 Boscobel. I had written a few of these songs before leaving the farm. The rest I wrote those months back in Nashville again.
I am calling this project The Boscobel Sessions, and hoping all will be ready for release by late October 2017. These recordings are somewhat raw, minimal, and unorthodox. Eric is a sort of dark-winged angel in the music world, working in the shadows but full of light. I feel these songs are born of a deeper, clearer place than perhaps any of my previous work. I am beyond grateful to Eric for helping me bring them out into the world, and very excited to share them.
More soon --- JJN