JoAnna James
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JoAnna James

Band Americana Singer/Songwriter

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St. Paul singer/songwriter JoAnna James takes a staggering leap forward with her seductive new 'Back of My Mind' EP, her first release for Martin Devaney's Eclectone Records (an ideal pairing if there ever was one). James is already a familiar face to local music followers, thanks to her frequent guest appearances with everyone from the Honeydogs to Chris Koza. But thanks to its slow-burn groove, 'Back of My Mind' should do wonders in further establishing James as one of the Cities' most promising performers. - Minneapolis Star Tribune (April 2007)


“Last Sunday's Guest Session [at the Fitzgerald Theater in downtown St. Paul] featuring the Honeydogs and their friends was absolutely one of the best nights of music I've witnessed in a while. Chris Roberts introduced the night as a hootenanny, and he couldn't have been more right. The biggest surprise of the night was JoAnna James’ rendition of Aretha Franklin's ‘Do Right Woman’. She belted that song out like no one else I've ever seen and it brought the house down.”

-- Ali Lozoff (October 2005 - Cross Currents Volume 1, Issue 36


She’s been out of her teens for only three years, yet JoAnna James’ voice conveys decades worth of wisdom, defeat and, finally, optimism on this sophomore album. After her bare-bones, singer/songwritery first album pleased Minnesota-based listeners, James invited an impressive cast of Twin Cities musicians to join her on Desire. These musicians provide a creative and quirky cushion for the artist, who herself is fluent on acoustic and electric guitar, as well as the accordion. Most notable among the guests is Jessy Greene (responsible for the sublime fiddle hook on Wilco’s “Jesus, etc”), who lends her sultry violin to three tracks.

Vocally, James is a freak of nature. At one extreme, she rasps like a pajama-clad Nora Jones ironing waffles on a Sunday morning, and at the other her wail rivals the late Jeff Buckley, liquored-up under a full moon. While there’s no doubt James sports a remarkable set of pipes, on occasion she hits both poles of her ability within a single four-minute track and exhausts the listener. Her dense lyrics, all included in the liner notes, artfully tackle mature subjects. It’s enough to leave an audience wondering how such an old soul could be trapped in this youngster’s body.

-- Caroline Keys (August 2005)
- Missoula Independent


The songwriter is a sparkling talent, and near-constant touring has made her a consummate performer. Likewise, Back of My Mind, the EP she celebrates tonight, demands attention. The title track, in particular, is a prickler, imbuing James's heralded voice with the soul of a Southern spiritual. - City Pages (April 2007)


"JoAnna James' sweet vocals seem to come from a place far older than her youthful years could feasibly know. James digs deep inside, pulling up the most stunning range of raw blues vocalizations I've heard in this town. Her versatile range is at turns hypnotically smooth as silk, and spine-tinglingly arrousing." - Pulse of the Twin Cities (Dec. 2005)


"Back of my Mind" is goose-bump good. It's either ultra-sexy or utterly soulful, depending on your orientation. But the true heart and soul of this rare talent—the reason you should remember her name—is her live performance. When JoAnna James closes her eyes and begins her song, gravity suddenly leaves the room. There are moments during her shows when everyone in attendance is holding onto something heavy, as if worried that her voice might cause them to simply float away... If you get the chance to see her perform, drop everything and go. - City Pages (April 2007)


"JoAnna James has a stage presence so pure and intense that it makes you forget that you are indeed a stranger listening to a song. You forget that you've never met her. You are drawn in, shaken up a bit, and alarmed at the strength of the deep, rich vocal power pouring into the room, surprisingly produced by the small woman standing before you.

"This 23-year-old St. Paul native started playing music on a violin her grandfather bought from a nun, then later taught herself guitar and began playing acoustic gigs at the age of 15. Her influences truly vary widely - Jeff Buckley, Ani DiFranco, Prince, Radiohead, Beethoven, etc. James would best sum up her genre as a soul-folk-blues combo....

"There is no doubt that James' musical message is deeply personal. Watching her perform is an intimate experience that leaves you feeling like you really know her, but more importantly, you enjoy having met her this way."

-- Megan Zabel (February 2005) - Volume One Magazine


JoAnna James's ‘Disappear’ might be the most heart-shattering, gorgeous, and we're-all-alone in-this-world-together song of the year... James's sweet voice is angelic and empathetic and as honest as they come. No one's alone when there's someone as pure as James doing all that mourning and weeping for you. Darn it all, we're going to call it early: This will be the record of the year.
(April 2007) - Pinch! Metroblog (online)


JoAnna James' voice is immediately evocative, the sort of singularly expressive vehicle born to make hairs stand on end. In the age of "American Idol," the musical landscape has seemingly been inundated overnight with legions of throat-searing showboats who can hit all the impossibly high notes and then some, so it's not James' technical prowess that makes her particularly noteworthy. It's her ability to marry those none-too-shabby vocal chops with an authentic charisma and soulful grit--the kind of thing that can't be learned in marathon vocal practice sessions so much as out living life--that sets her apart from the big throated pop/vocal pack.

"Especially with the advent of 'American Idol,' I think the whole art of nuance and subtlety is getting washed out from music," says James, a 25-year-old St. Paul native. "The more I see that, the more I want to go in the opposite direction and make my music real subtle and soft. In the context of the times that we live in I know I appreciate that kind of art a lot more."

James backs up her claims on her soon-to-be-released EP Back of My Mind, her third release overall and first since her sprawling 2005 sophomore effort, Desire. Desire proved to be a mixed bag, a bold and adventurous gambit by a young talent that at times bit off more than it could chew while trying to wed several disparate arrangements and songwriting styles together under one roof (gruff rock, soulful R&B, gospel, folk). Nearly all the tracks featured commanding vocal performances, but at the time of its release, James admitted in conversation to still feeling more like a singer than a songwriter.

On Back of My Mind, James has wisely decided to streamline her sound. Working with a set of crack session players and seasoned producer Duane Lundy, the songs are musically spare, working from a basic guitar/drums/bass setup with limited use of vocal and instrumental overdubs to distill James mid-tempo folk/soul/pop hybrid to its inherently alluring essentials. "We knew we only had one weekend to go in and record the album," says James recalling her experience at Lundy's studios in Lexington, Ky. "Even given the short time frame we had though it didn't really feel high pressure because I knew the songs well going in. We did three or four live takes of each song and basically just picked the best one and added a little bit to it. The whole process was very organic. I think Duane brought out the purest essence of the songs."

Although working within a more limited sonic palette, there's still plenty of stylistic diversity on display over the course of Back of My Mind's six tracks. The Stax-reminiscent soul-pop swing of "Drawn" shares little with the folk-blues stomp of the title track, and nothing on the disc can compete for sheer strangeness with the ethereal closing track, "I Sing for You," a swirl of ambient strings and chanting incantations that has little to do with Western conceptions of popular music...
From the get-go, the Back of My Mind EP shows James has now become far more than just a striking singer; she has come into her own as a songwriter as well. The lyrical bar is set high on the opening track, the mournful funeral-set folk tale "No Ordinary Sunday," in which James (singing as the character of a recently deceased mother) guides her son through how he'll have to behave at her funeral in a series of poignant instructions ("You'll have to help your Daddy stand / You'll have to tie your own tie today"). The following songs are equally mesmerizing, in particular the deeply disturbing suicide narrative "Disappear" ("I paint my red stripes on with my razor blades and lay my body down for anyone to take"). If James' intent was to come up with songs of substance that would be compelling regardless of who sang them, she's completed the job.

"I am happier with this set of songs from a songwriter's point of view," admits James. "The goal is always just to keep on digging deeper and trying to create songs that hit the core in people. I wouldn't say it's gotten easier for me, but I find as I get older and live more and get out of town more, it's starting to come naturally." - Pulse of the Twin Cities (April 2007)


Discography

"JoAnna James" LP - May, 2004
"Desire" LP - July, 2005
"Back of my Mind" EP - April, 2007 (Eclectone)

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Bio

*2007 MUSIC CONFERENCE ACCEPTANCES:
CMJ Music Marathon - New York, NY
Midpoint Music Festival - Cincinnati, OH

*2006 FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR/MINNESOTA MUSIC AWARDS

*2006 MUSIC CONFERENCE ACCEPTANCES:
CMJ Music Marathon - New York, NY
Midpoint Music Festival - Cincinnati, OH
South Park Music Festival - Fairplay, CO
Midwest Music Summit - Indianapolis, IN


*2005 FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR/MINNESOTA MUSIC AWARDS

*2005 MUSIC CONFERENCE ACCEPTANCES:
CMJ Music Marathon - New York, NY
Midwest Music Summit - Indianapolis, IN
RockRgrl Music Conference - Seattle, WA

*DESIRE named one of the top 20 local CDs of 2005 by the St. Paul Pioneer Press

Made up of equal parts soul, folk and blues, JoAnna James is a gifted singer/songwriter from St. Paul, Minnesota whose live performances leave her audiences longing for more. The way she wails would make Motown proud. Her delicate phrasings would have made Nina Simone grin. Her heartfelt performances would elicit a knowing wink from Bonnie Raitt. Whether singing in a sultry whisper or a gale-force wail, JoAnna James was born with "a voice guaranteed to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up" (Pulse of the Twin Cities).

JoAnna got her start in music when she was seven years old on a violin her grandfather purchased from a nun for $100. It wasn't too long before the guitar lured her in and she began to teach herself chords by listening to everything from Patsy Cline, Prince and Nirvana, to Otis Redding, Jeff Buckley and Bob Dylan. Singing was next, and it wasn't long before she found herself on stage at local coffee shops. Fast-forward ten years, which found JoAnna playing nearly 250 dates over the course of 2005 and 2006, in addition to receiving two consecutive Minnesota Music Awards for "Female Vocalist of the Year."

In the past two years, JoAnna has also enjoyed the privilege of sharing the stage with national and international touring musicians such as UK jazz sensation Jamie Cullum, Australian singer/songwriter Missy Higgins, Ken Stringfellow (of REM, The Posies and Big Star), Joseph Arthur, A Girl Called Eddy, The Honeydogs, Mason Jennings, Steve Poltz, The New Standards, Slim Dunlap (the Replacements), and Cloud Cult. In 2007, JoAnna was asked to perform on Grammy Award winner Dan Wilson's new CD, "Free Life" (American, 2007).

JoAnna currently has two full-length recordings and one EP. She released a self-titled CD in the spring of 2004 and her sophomore album, Desire, in the summer of 2005. Last year she travelled to Lexington, Kentucky and teamed up with producer, Duane Lundy, to record a new EP, "Back of my Mind" that was released by Eclectone Records.