JoAnna James (Wednesday, June 8th, Peavey Plaza Tunes @ Noon, Minneapolis)
By David Rachac
Tunes @ Noon at Peavey Plaza has always been the poor cousin to the Alive After Five series. Everything about the event, from under-advertising and minimal signage to the unopened beer tents [on this particular lunch hour, anyway], makes the event appear to play second fiddle. And that's especially disappointing this year when, band for band, the Tunes @ Noon roster is far superior.
Fresh off her sparkling performance at the Turf Club on Saturday, JoAnna James followed up with an equally impressive show at the Tunes @ Noon series . Wednesday afternoon James and her band showcased many of the songs that will appear on her upcoming album Desire (due out July 6th), and demonstrated why she is one of the Twin Cities’ most gifted singer/songwriters.
One of the strengths of JoAnna James and her band is the ability to mix musical styles while creating a seamless listening experience. While much of her 2004 self-titled debut is acoustic and quietly introspective, the songs from the new album are darker, bluesier and less self-contained. Trying to mesh these different types of songs together is difficult, so it is a tribute to the band’s talent that they do it without creating a jarring dissonance for the listener.
James’ acrobatic voice could be favorably compared with Maria McKee (especially on songs like “Ride”) but without all of the vocal histrionics that McKee employs. Musically, McKee is a good starting point as well, but where McKee tends towards up-tempo rave-ups, James gravitates more in the direction of slow burning blues. (See songs like “Tell Me” by guitarist Zac Selissen and “Desire”, the title track on the new album.)
Starting out with a full acoustic lineup, including Ben Foote (Pete Hofmann/Little Man) playing stand-up bass and Jessy Greene on violin, James and her band (including Jordan Carlson from Renee Austin’s band) tore through a 16-song set in a little more than 70 minutes. After four songs, including “Lucky Strike” and “Rest” off of the upcoming album, the band reverted to a more standard electric mode for “Dime A Dozen”, off of her debut album. For most of the rest of the set, Jessy Greene disappeared, but returned to add a haunting violin line on “Desire”, after which James laughingly apologized if the song scared any small children.
James herself alternated back and forth from acoustic guitar on softer numbers like “Privilege” to a sweet red Rickenbacker on “Over Me” and “Explode”. The only thing that was missing was the sweet background vocals of Lizzie Brown, who was unable to make it to the show.
James did two cover tunes: Dan Israel's “Waiting So Long”, which will appear on her new album, and “Dreams to Remember” by Otis Redding. The Redding cover was especially pretty, with James putting down her guitar to concentrate simply on singing. Finishing up her set with the poppy Pretenders-like “Wake Up” put an exclamation point on a beautiful afternoon of music.
The new album was co-produced by Chris Koza, and includes guest appearances by Alicia Wiley, Pete Sands (Honeydogs) and folk-blues guitarist Charlie Parr. JoAnna James’ CD release party will be at the Fine Line on Wednesday, July 6th.
JoAnna James website: www.joannajames.com