A Joe Jencks concert is definitely not a visit to the inner world of some guy with a guitar who wants you to sit still and listen politely. It's an occasion for singing, a contagious rising up of voices, an act of joy and defiance! Classical training meets roots-groove with acoustic soul.
Folk Nik Review: I Hear Your Voice – San Francisco Folk Music Club
JOE JENCKS: I Hear Your Voice
Turtle Bear Music, 8314Greenwood Ave. N., PMB #215, Seattle, WA 98103; 877-485-2479;
We who are feeling like old-fogey folkies and wonder who will be the minstrels and muses of the next generation need look no farther than Joe Jencks. This, his second recording, has close to an hour's worth of spectacular, soul-moving yet foot-tapping music. There's only one cover (Woody Guthrie's Deportee); all of the self-penned others are musical gems. The influences and styles are di-verse, but never get in the way of the lyrics; his clear tenor voice, front and center on every song, is a joy to hear (there are plenty of vocal and instrumental harmonies for depth); and the recording is well-paced. Included are songs honoring ordinary working folks in victory and still struggling (Rise as One, Christmas in Mansfield), a very African-sounding song honoring human-rights martyr Ken Saro Wiwa, a reggae-ish You Don't Have the Right addressed to power brokers and exploiters, heart-felt and wry love longs (Dance With Me and Highway Romance, respectively). The humorous Men Are Good looks at media messages that should be sent. There are songs of personal growth and gratitude (On Belay; Leaving), and a beautiful message-song (Do It for the Singing) closes the album. One of the best songs seems more of a chant (3 notes!), but is a great anthem that can be sung by all in these dark times-"Sing with anger / Sing with fear / Sing with laughter / Through our tears /Sing with power in our strife / We are singers, singers of life." More than recommended-Prescribed for survival in today's world! Get this one for the singing! - Kathryn LaMar
Aisle on the Isle: Joe Jencks in Concert – Greenlight Long Island Magazine
Joe Jencks in Concert
Reviewed by Aliceann Donnelly for Long Island Magazine
Joe Jencks refers to himself as "musician, vocalist, songwriter, bard." An accurate enough self-assessment, but one to which I would add, "balladeer."
Expecting nothing more than a summer evening of pleasant folk music, I was happily surprised at the depth and complexity of Mr. Jencks' performance at the Santosha Center for the Arts in Amityville. The Santosha Center is a venue small in size, but lovely in ambiance and furnishing, with outstanding acoustics. A deceptively plain storefront entrance hides this charming performance space, and it proved a worthy setting for the warm intimacy of Mr. Jencks' songs and stories.
"Ballad" is defined in Merriam-Webster as "a simple song." Superficially, some of Mr. Jencks' songs meet this criteria in both lyric and melody, but beneath most lie a depth of thought and perspective worthy of any sociologist, psychologist or philosopher. Particularly noteworthy in this respect is the playful "Men Are Good," a non-chest-thumping ode to the virtues of the male members of our species. "Men are Good" was wisely placed as the follow up to the more serious, message-imbued, "What Kind of Brother?," a meaningful social commentary seeking a little self examination from men who feel free to endlessly comment on female countenance and form at all times, and in all manner.
Mr. Jencks takes us into his life and world with self revelatory anecdotes, offering insight into the origin and development of his work. Saturated with spirituality, influenced by the Catholicism of his youth and the Buddhism of present study, his insightful lyrics seek to touch the soul as well as the heart and mind, and most often, succeed. "What Have You Done in My Name?" asks Jencks' Christ in song, an astute and moving rhetorical musical question.
Though he eschews love songs, claiming to be "allergic," one of the most lovely and moving songs of the evening was "Dance with Me," a tender and eloquent love ballad. Pure in lyric, profound in emotional impact, it is a few moments of musical transport worthy of the most accomplished balladeer.
Mr. Jencks is a talented acoustic guitar player with a richly resonant tenor voice. The intelligence, emotion, and humor he brings to his compositions and presentation makes an evening of his music a pleasure not to be missed. He is currently touring throughout the Northeast.
Opening the evening with an all-too-brief set was Long Island native Glen Roethel. Mr. Roethel's allegorical and romantic lyrics combine with finely elegant guitar playing to sweet and soothing rhythmic effect. Catch him when you can, as well.
Find more information at www.joejencks.com; www.inspireline.com (Mr. Roethel); and www.Santosha.com.
June 24, 2005
NMU Student Love Joe's Music – Private
REFLECTIONS FROM LIZ MCKINNEY Northern Michigan University
It started way back in December – we were looking for entertainment for Saturday evening of the Student Outdoor Educators Conference, and not having much luck. To make a long story short, Joe was able to come perform for both the SOEC and the campus. His performances were easily the highlight of my weekend.
Joe has a degree in music and a background in political activism. Every one of his songs is different, but every one of them has a message of hope, perseverance, and beauty despite hardship. He sings about human rights, environmental issues, respect for others…and about “traffic jam romance” and how he is “automechanically declined” (a funny song featured on Click and Clack’s show ‘Car Talk’ on NPR). An evening with Joe is as much marked by laughter as by tears.
Two weeks after the conference (two weeks full of listening to Joe’s CD “I Hear Your Voice”), I was blessed with the opportunity to see him perform at a small coffee house in Escanaba. The performance lasted three hours, but it felt like 20 minutes. I could have listened all night (despite the plastic chair). I don’t think I’ve ever lost myself so deeply in a performance. But several times, I looked away from the stage and into the crowd, and the looks on people’s faces…there were people of all ages, all races, all walks of life, and all of them were completely enraptured by this amazing artist, enfolded in the spirit of his music. Then he’d ask them to sing along, and they would become the music. I watched them and thought, this is a magic beyond explanation, beyond value.
I am so inspired by Joe’s music. I feel like my cup is overflowing with the intensity of the experiences he communicates. Joe is such a thoughtful and sensitive artist…his music is clear and delicate, his poetry sharply perceptive and his chords beautifully arranged…on stage, Joe breathes life into his songs with his clear voice, sending them out into the room like a spirit with the power to touch people’s hearts and bring them alive. Joe’s songs have the power to arouse emotions and memories in every person who hears them, the power to make every person look upon his or her path with more clarity, to see the value in what they do. Joe sends a powerful message of love and acceptance, and it creates a feeling so warm and deep that it lasts long after the music ends. I think that if everyone in the world could just experience that feeling, we would be unable to hate each other, or to remain indifferent to each other’s suffering. When I listen to Joe’s music, I see all the good in the world, all the mystery, the beauty in all things large and small, and in myself. Joe is a gift to the world, and he is so well-suited to the path he follows that just by being who he is, he inspires others to find their calling. We are all blessed by Joe’s music.
“We are children of every faith, we are people of every race…still we are branches of one great tree, whose roots are freedom and dignity.” –‘Singers of Life’
“Well hello, thought you might like to know - we all feel this way when the wind inside us blows.” –‘Ripple in the Water’
Liz McKinney- NMU
Rise As One is a Great CD! – Victory Music Review
Maybe it’s just me, but I could swear that this voice gets richer with every recording, and this artistic vision and commitment grow deeper. With a voice that sounds perhaps like a cross between an oboe and a perfectly-played orchestral horn, with guitar playing that deftly backs his every phrase (when he isn’t singing a cappella), with a commitment to the tradition and history of folk music, with a superb catalogue of original songs as well, and with an ability to bring the truth of his heart to his performances, Joe Jencks is an extraordinarily capable troubadour carrying the tradition of labor songs into the present moment—when they are more needed than we generally acknowledge—and into the future. I have long wished for a live CD from Joe, something that captures the sense of community he creates with his people-affirming songs, the audience joining in enthusiastically. Here it is. Recorded in a concert arranged by the Folklore Society of Greater Washington (D.C.), and exquisitely engineered by Charlie Pilzer, one of the many delights is the sense we get of an audience being won over by Joe’s music and presence. The applause is polite at the outset; soon, however, it grows warmer, and then it begins to roar. Joe mixes a wide variety of labor-oriented songs, old and new—from “John Henry” to Woody Guthrie’s classic “Deportees” to Joe’s own extremely moving “Christmas in Mansfield,” and many more. Interspersed with the songs are stories that add color and feeling to the music. All of this is just one guitar, one voice (plus occasional choruses provided by the audience), recorded digitally with no effects, no studio fixes or enhancements, not even a bit of reverb beyond that provided by the hall. Fittingly, it is raw, simple, genuine and true. Indeed, I’m not sure how this could be improved upon. (Kudos, too, to Ricardo Levins Morales for the aptly beautiful art, and to Andrew Ratshin for the graphic design.) This is music to be grateful for, sixty minutes of it, generously presented…and it is remarkable that, in these grim and uncertain times, Joe first gave us a short CD of gentle, moving songs with spiritual foundations; and now this, a powerful affirmation of the worth of Everyman. This is, I believe, Joe’s form of protest music: Instead of tearing down, it builds and restores and provides much-needed clarity and hope. [Bill Fisher]
“Raw, simple, genuine and true… a powerful affirmation of the worth of Everyman. This is, I believe, Joe’s form of protest music: Instead of tearing down, it builds and restores and provides much-needed clarity and hope.” ~ Bill Fisher, Victory Music Review
Sing Out! Reviews: I Hear Your Voice – Sing Out! Magazine
Sing Out! Magazine Reviews “I Hear Your Voice”
The next time someone says that folk music has lost it’s conscience, lacks great protest songs and has lost its connection with its causes, I will sit them down and play Joe Jencks’ CD “I Hear Your Voice.” As a bonus, Jencks sings with a superb tenor voice and picks flashy guitar on this self produced second effort. Most of the accompaniment is simple so it doesn’t obscure the beauty of Jencks’ voice or the words of his well-written songs.
Jencks doesn’t rail at the listener, his songs have poetry and heart. The thirteen tracks mix a variety of moods and messages, some personal and some political. Jencks opens with “Rise As One,” reminiscent of Fred Small at his best, about the successful strike of minimum wage school support workers. He follows this with Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee,” a song that while written over fifty years ago, is becoming increasingly timely. “Christmas in Mansfield,” tells the plight of steel workers who have been locked out of their jobs for over three
While most of the songs sound pretty folk- oriented with mostly acoustic production, “You Don’t Have the Right” comes at the listener with a bit more fury. It’s about the protestors locked up by the police during the anti-globalization demonstrations in Seattle. “Singers of Life” is an anthem worthy of Holly Near’s repertoire. On his previous CD, Jencks put down men who act like sexist pigs, so “Men Are Good” provides a humorous contrast, claiming that men aren’t really all bad.
Jencks closes with “For The Singing,” a song he calls “a gift from God.” It’s a song about the choices we make in life and the answers for which we search, that are really inside of us. This song has a chorus that all of us should and must take to heart. To hear that chorus, you must buy this CD. –R. Warren -Rich Warren is the host of the nationally syndicated folk show “The Midnight Special” WFMT-FM Chicago, IL (This article originally appeared in Sing Out! Summer 2003 Vol. 47 #2)
NW Times Concert Review: Joe Jencks – NW Times
Stories about human compassion unfold in Joe Jencks' songs
BY TIM SHELLBERG
To Joe Jencks, folk singers and songwriters such as himself have a lot in common with ministers.
"We (both) take the stage and we tell stories," he said. "We get people to laugh. We get people to sing. We create a space where people can be very real and have honest reactions to stories."
Scheduled to perform Saturday at Valparaiso's Front Porch Music, Jencks, 31, is the youngest of seven children reared in a musical household in Rockford, Ill. He gravitated to folk music when he was 7 or 8 years old, when a sister bought him an album by folk pioneer Pete Seeger.
Jencks said that at that age, some of Seeger's lyrics went over his head.
"There were songs there that I wasn't old enough to truly understand, but I got that there was some weight there, that there was some importance to them," he said. "I took to it immediately. I fell in love with the stories."
Attending the Music Conservatory at Milliken University in Decatur, Ill., Jencks received degrees in vocal music performance, music education and choral conducting. Along with folk music, he parlayed his talents into other musical genres, including jazz, opera and classical music.
He made his way to Seattle in the early '90s, where he founded a traditional Irish ensemble. For five years he mixed his jazz learnings into the traditional Irish fare, much to the chagrin of conservative listeners.
"Some people liked it, and other people were like 'that's not traditional,' " he said en route to a performance in Des Moines, Iowa. "We definitely pushed some boundaries up there, and we had a few of the old Irish guys get a little crabby with us messing with their songs."
In 1996, Jencks released his debut album, "The Phoenix," and followed it up four years later with "What Kind of Brother." His latest album, "I Hear Your Voice," came out in January. He has shared the stage with his first hero, Seeger, as well as folk-based artists ranging from Tracy Chapman to Utah Phillips.
A songwriter whose subject matters have ranged in the past from social justice to human rights to workers' rights, Jencks says he looks for stories that touch his heart when he searches for lyrics. "Saro Wiwa," one of the songs on "Voice," tells the story of a Nigerian poet and activist who was executed for peaceful opposition of the destruction of the Niger delta region in Nigeria by large oil companies.
"That's the kind of story that touches me," he said. "Stories about people stepping beyond the ordinary life and living it in some extraordinary way.
"That's what really grabs me. … I'm really moved by stories of human beings reaching beyond their own situation to improve their lives or to improve the lives of others."
Inspired by his jazz background, Jencks and his musicians recorded "Voice" live in the studio. On the album, Jencks sought a sparse sound.
"My voice and my guitar work are a little more front and center, and the accompanying instrumentation is a little more in the background," he said of "Voice." "I really wanted people who have only heard me through my recordings to have some sense of who I am as a live performer … and spice it with some other sounds in the background rather than make it sound like a huge band kind of production."
Jencks is at work on a new CD that will be out in 2007.
Songwriter Found Worth In His Labor – Everett Herald
Songwriter found worth in his labor
By Sharon Wootton
Special to The Herald
Although Joe Jencks has listened to Pete Seeger's music since childhood, it wasn't until he was an adult that he appreciated it on a personal level.
The singer and songwriter, armed with undergraduate and graduate studies in vocal music performance, choral conducting and music education, hadn't been able to break into the circuit on a full-time basis.
Jencks shares the stage Sunday with Wes Weddell in Everett.
He had to take day jobs as a warehouse forklift operator, school bus driver, and in marine sales to make ends meet. Those experiences allowed him to better understand the notion of collective bargaining, he said.
So don't be surprised when Jencks offers a few labor-related songs during his performances, carrying on the folksinger tradition of delivering messages about social struggles and social conscience.
"Labor unions will not survive unless there's a strong cultural arm to carry the messages, to celebrate through music and art and theater," Jencks said.
Although Jencks understood the message and task on an intellectual level, he wanted to sing, not run a forklift or drive a school bus. They were jobs that he considered not on a par with performing. Ironically, the Pete Seeger fan was becoming bitter about working as a laborer.
Then friends stepped in.
"They talked to me about taking a real craftsman's pride in the work that I do, that we should be proud of all the work we do and remove the notion that any work is demeaning.
"That shifted the focus for me and I stopped being bitter. I started to think, 'OK, this is the work I need to do right now (on my way to becoming) a cultural worker.'
"I started bringing a craftsman's work ethic to my music. The shift in my understanding made a difference. I quit worrying about whether I'd be famous and started concentrating on making an honest living doing good work. And that's when I made the break."
He took a week off of work in August 2000 to think things through. In that week, he booked a five-week national tour.
"I was motivated by sheer terror. I put everything I had into that tour," Jencks said.
The 10,000-mile, 28-performance tour was a success, and led to the current 4.5-year run of full-time performing.
He hasn't forgotten the lessons learned about social justice, pride in all work, or the singers who have delivered the messages long before he stepped on stage.
"I'm just a link in a very long chain."
Singer and songwriter Wes Weddell, also from Seattle, is part of the newest generation of folksingers.
Weddell, in 2001, spent 65 days swinging through Washington, producing nine regionally themed songs based upon stories heard about contemporary state residents.
Union Musician Union Songs – Woods Hole Community Press
Union Musician Union Songs
Sunday, January 21, 7:30 pm
Woods Hole Community Center, Water Street, Woods Hole, MA
Appearing for the first time in Woods Hole, singer-songwriter-guitarist Joe Jencks will perform traditional songs of social justice. He has earned wide recognition for his songs about working people, and for his unique merging of musical beauty, social consciousness, and spiritual exploration. Joe's music has been likened to embodying the spirit of Pete Seeger.
The performer's studies in vocal music and music education through the graduate level are evident in the skill with which he uses his warm and caressing tenor voice to captivate audiences. A winner of numerous songwriting awards, his "Auto Mechanically Declined" song is played on NPR's legendary "Car Talk" show.
Joe Jencks, a dual American/Irish citizen, has six recordings under the Turtle Bear Music label that merge traditions from both countries. We're sure to hear selections from his latest CD, "Rise as One -- Live Concert," a musical retrospective on the labor movement. As Sing Out! Magazine remarks, "Joe sings with a superb tenor voice, and picks flashy guitar . . . that doesn't obscure the beauty of his voice or the words of his well-crafted songs." Join us for a memorable evening of passionate and memorable social conscious singing.
For more info visit: www.joejencks.com/
Joe Jencks serves on the executive board of A.F.M. Local 1000: North American Traveling Musicians Union. He is also a member of the North American Folk Music Alliance