By Caleb Calhoun
Things are going well for Jane Kramer. With an acclaimed second album out last year, she’s been pursuing her music in the city she loves and everything is right where it should be. Which, she admits, has been a problem in the past.
Kramer, who lived in Portland, Oregon, for about four years between 2011 and 2015, says it like this:
“In Portland, I was in this kind of introspective, lonely place because I didn’t have the connections that I have here. Coming back I found myself surrounded by friends and then I fell in love and was like ‘Oh shit, I’m happy, how do I write now?’”
The truth is that it is all just part of the maturation process for this mountain songstress. From growing up in suburban Pennsylvania to studying at Warren Wilson College to her early professional years in the Barrel House Mamas, every experience along her way has lead her to where she is now.
As the song “Truck Stop Stars” off of her album Carnival of Hopes reveals, the whole trip has been about finding herself. Or, more pointedly from the song “Highways, Rivers and Scars,” she tells us, “I’m gonna go find that woman we both used to know and when I do I will send her straight home.”
It is that kind of vulnerability that makes Kramer’s music so easy to relate to. When she sings about running her mouth, or cussing and carrying on, you can almost hear yourself. The line between personal and professional, when it comes to her song-writing, is exceedingly thin.
Take the first time I saw her play as an example. A few songs in, she stopped and prefaced her next number like this:
“The next song is the kind of song you write when you have been kicked out of your house and are spending the night in cheap hotel with a box of wine.”
For years these struggles, these failures, these personal heartbreaks have been Kramer’s bread and butter as a songwriter. Nonetheless, if you don’t want to write about pain your entire life you have to grow. “I used to think that it was more vulnerable to write about the shadow parts of my life but it’s just not like that anymore,” she says.
After being challenged by one of her mentors to write something that spoke of the beauty and not the pain of her life, she penned the song “Hymn,” one of my personal favorites. It’s an example of the growth that has taken place in her life since her relocation to Asheville just more than a year ago.
“I am the ember of god that lights up the firefly,” she says in the song, a stunning step forward from the perspective seen in “Carnival of Hopes,” where she states, “I think god lives in the things that I don’t know.”
By embracing the change taking place in her life Kramer has expanded her voice. While she still has the capacity and transparency to write about the crooked paths she finds, she has also learned how to talk about the beauty she encounters along the way.
As if her world-class songwriting and incomparable voice were not enough, she will be playing this Saturday at The Grey Eagle backed by a who’s who of local bluegrass musicians. Her band will be made up of the members of Free Planet Radio, as well as featuring Acoustic Syndicate’s Billy Cardine and Jon Stickley Trio’s fiddler, Lyndsay Pruett. Kramer couldn’t be happier with the group she has assembled for this show.
“I think the biggest gift from them is that they believe in my music. Watching them play it and feel it is so moving. It’s really just so easy playing with them, so easy,” Kramer explains.
I imagine that they feel the same way about playing her music. Lord knows it is easy enough to listen to.
Jane Kramer plays at The Grey Eagle on Saturday, Jan. 7. Doors open at 8 p.m. and music starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 D.O.S.
Caleb Calhoun studied writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and music at a plethora of clubs and bars across the southeast. He is the author and publisher of Rosman City Blues and currently resides outside of Asheville with his dog and best friend, Dr. Gonzo.