CARNIVAL OF HOPES
Vocalist / Songwriter Jane Kramer makes a full voiced return to her roots with mountain-made second solo album, Carnival of Hopes
A singer/songwriter with deep ties to Asheville NC’s music scene is back in town with a heavy-hitting second solo album and a renewed energy to share it. After a four-year run on the West Coast, Jane Kramer pulled up stakes in Portland, Oregon, and returned to Western North Carolina this summer.
Her new full-length release, Carnival of Hopes, aches and soars with her connections to Appalachian balladry, a force she first encountered at Warren Wilson College and honed while performing with the Asheville-based all-female trio, the Barrel House Mamas, who helped reintroduce Americana music to the Blue Ridge mountains a decade ago. However, it is as a solo artist where the power of Kramer’s songwriting and world-class vocals truly shine.
Carnival of Hopes feels both celebratory and frank. It is filled with songs of regret and insight found after deep and gritty self-reflection. At its core, the album tells the story of facing down dark inner demons while still clinging to “that tiny chirping of light in your bones that somehow keeps you tethered to keeping on”, Kramer says.
“Anyone who has stared down the barrel of themselves and their failures and fears and shipwrecked loves has scraped up against the bottom of their own capacity for hoping,” says Kramer, a social worker and musician by trade.
“My carnival of hopes is busted and hideous and rusty and somehow still brave and sparkly,” she says, “like the image of the forgotten Ferris wheel we printed on the disc – half taken over by trees and time, but still standing.”
On this deeply personal album, Kramer’s favorite track is the ballad, ‘Good Woman.’ While she says she’s not one who fits that description, listeners might disagree after hearing the lilting but earnest passion and regret in her voice.
‘Good Woman’ is the song you write when your lover kicks you out of the house and you’re half drunk on cheap box wine in a crappy motel room staring at yourself in the mirror under the fluorescent bathroom light,” Kramer says. “You can’t help but be honest then.”
Aside from the sentiment, the contributions of virtuoso players from well-known Asheville bands also help make the song a favorite, Kramer adds. Nicky Sanders of Steep Canyon Rangers and Franklin Keel of Sirius B play orchestral fiddle and cello, respectively, on ‘Good Woman’.
Carnival of Hopes as an album is full of sometimes-searing flourishes on the complexities of Kramer’s modern life. The title track clearly encompasses that, she says.
“In the song Carnival of Hopes and on the record as a whole, I talk about letting things die and being honest about it: the notion that I am a good woman, ideas for my future and success, a big love, and even parts of myself dying and being reborn in the letting go” she says. “I talk about laying down my hammer but leaving the light on in the window. While these are heavy concepts, I feel the take-away feeling of the album is one of hope.”
Other song titles on the album offer clear hints to Kramer’s unflinching self-examination and ability to convey heavy subject matter through utterly palatable and even catchy song-crafting. The New Orleans jazz-influenced “Why’d I Do That Blues,” the classic country honky tonking sass of “Half Way Gone” and the banjo-driven, uptempo modern-day spiritual “My Dusty Wings” all speak to a talented songwriter laying herself bare. She credits her songwriting hero and mentor, Mary Gauthier, with helping her reach for, and express, everything she hoped to communicate with the album.
The sense of homecoming also rings through and was a conscious effort, Kramer says. She recorded the album in Asheville in February of 2015 while still living on the other side of the country in Portland. A few months later, she left Oregon and moved back to Asheville.
“I did that because Asheville is my dirt. It’s my home and my culture, musically and otherwise. I missed it and knew somewhere in my bones I would be coming back to stay soon,” she says.
“I didn’t want to make an album that didn’t sound like home,” Kramer adds. “I wanted Asheville musicians and Appalachian instrumentation – that wistful, southern dobro sound that hurts your heart a little in a good way.”
Carnival of Hopes boasts a sparkling cast of local producers and players, and was recorded at Asheville’s award-winning Sound Temple Studios. Kramer’s longtime friend Adam Johnson of Sound Lab Studios, whose portfolio of clients includes such names as Alison Krauss and Yo Yo Ma, produced and engineered the album. Kramer is backed by Chris Rosser, Eliot Wadopian and River Guerguerian, the virtuoso trio that comprises Free Planet Radio, and by master Georgia-based bluegrass musicians/ multi-instrumentalists, Pace Conner and Michael Evers who arranged the songs for recording and perform and tour with Kramer regularly.
Throughout the album, it is Kramer’s unvarnished honesty and searching, powerfully sweet and heartrending voice that carry the well-crafted and arranged songs and tie both elements of loss and healing cohesively together.
“I’m not great at making stuff up,” she says, “so I sing what I lived and what I know, without any sugar or fluff.”
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