Sometimes the title singer/songwriter conjures up the notion of coffee house background music or lyrics one could take or leave, set to acoustic guitar. With her unforgettably sweet yet hauntingly emotive voice, her intricately poetic lyrics and timeless melodies, Portland, Oregon-based artist Jane Kramer brings a fresh and distinctive take on the genre. Her soulful songs are compelling stories—raw and honest—that are powerfully intimate and stay with you. In love with words and with an arsenal of fraying notebooks full of poetry and melodies in her head, Jane wrote her first song at age seventeen . “I have always been fascinated with and deeply affected by the beauty and the heartbreak of our human experience,” Jane explains. “My songs are about living and loving in a complicated world as an imperfect being. I feel like I’ve succeeded if I can make a very personal experience translate as universally relateable.”
Jane was deeply influenced by the unforgettable voices and stylistic grace of such artists as Joni Mitchell, Stevie Knicks, Patty Griffin, Natalie Merchant and Emmylou Harris. She also credits her grandfather, David Madison, a violin prodigy and first chair violinist in the Philadelphia Orchestra for 51 years as a driving force in her musical upbringing. Although he passed away when Jane was only twelve, she firmly remembers “…the powerful dedication, conviction and humility behind his playing; the way he’d call his violin his ‘fiddle’ even though he performed in a tuxedo with the orchestra and played Handel and Beethoven, and the way he built his life on and through music, with reverence and sacrifice, much discipline and great joy.” Jane channeled these influences and became her own best music teacher. One time hearing her chill-inducing, signature yodel-like flick between her lower register and bell-like falsetto will make you a believer. “I taught myself to do that listening to a very careful combination of Hank Williams Senior, Patsy Cline and Sinead O’Conner at around 16 years old,” she explains.
Born in Valley Forge, PA in 1980 to a musically inclined family, Jane will tell you very frankly “I’ve never had a singing lesson, but can’t remember back to a time when I wasn’t singing.” Jane’s mother Debbie sang to her constantly as a child. According to Jane, “Even though she, too, was completely untrained, she has such a sweet voice and perfect pitch. She can spontaneously harmonize with any tune she hears and taught me to sing harmonies by ear, listening to Bob Dylan and the Everly Brothers when she drove me to school every morning. She would challenge me to sing something other than the melody—like the instrumental parts or to harmonize over-top her harmony. It was the best music class ever.” Always in a hurry to catch up to her older sister Carrie who played the piano when they were young girls, Jane trained her ear by sitting down to pick out melodies on the keys with her right hand, and used her left hand to find and play the harmonies. In much the same way, she easily picked up the silver flute, taught herself to read music and played in a youth chamber ensemble. Jane’s father, David, a classically trained guitarist, always found time to practice guitar late at night after grueling days at the office, and gave Jane her first guitar at age seventeen along with showing her a few basic chord structures. Jane remarks that his reverence for and dedication to the music he plays continues to be deeply inspiring to her. While he may not be hitting the road with her any time soon, Jane insists, “He’s my favorite accompanist. We do a stellar version of Bonnie Rait’s ‘Guilty’ that I aim to record with him someday.”
Jane attended college in Asheville, NC where she earned a degree in Social Work and became a founding member, songwriter, guitarist, flautist and anchor voice of The Barrel House Mamas, a regionally beloved female folk quartet from 2003 to 2009 who were regulars on the lineup at important music festivals and venues across the southeastern US. While on the road, Jane’s angelic voice and memorable songs garnered her attention from such names as Melissa Ferrick and acclaimed songwriter and performer, Malcolm Holcombe. At just nineteen years old, Jane was playing her guitar and singing on a street corner in Provincetown Cape Cod when a captivated Melissa Ferrick approached, sat and listened to four or five songs and then asked Jane personally to open for her in a Philadelphia performance. Similarly, Malcolm Holcombe overheard Jane rehearsing a cover of his song “A Far Cry from Here” backstage at a benefit concert they were both on the bill for, and approached her asking if she’d like to sing it with him in his set that day. Jane identifies this as a defining moment in her career.
Jane moved to Portland, Oregon two years ago, where she has been writing, performing and recording. Her debut solo release, Break and Bloom, recorded and engineered at New North Sound and mastered by Sound Lab Studios in Asheville, NC, will be released in the summer of 2013. The album is comprised of ten original songs and one cover—the riveting gospel tune, “tune How Far am I from Canaan”, and includes the sultry, summer night longing of classic country-influenced “Georgia” (accented with David Jacobs-Strain’s dead-on slide guitar), as well as the spectacularly heartbreaking piano ballad “The Devil Don’t Want”. The redemptive, bittersweet and rebellious post-breakup anthem “Nobody’s Woman Tonight” that will have everyone who has ever lost a love singing it’s refrain.
Favoring simple, tasteful arrangements, pared-down production that allows the songs themselves and Jane’s spot-on vocals to shine, Break and Bloom serves as a stunning debut release from this promising artist who endears herself to us early on with eloquent honesty, an unforgettable voice, and songs that quickly begin to feel like old companions.