headline: Local songstress unveils 3rd CD
Tag: Jan Spillane celebrates with a free show and release party
Jan Spillane can still remember her first forays into the world of music.
At the almost amazingly young age of five, she says she first began to compose her own lyrics, pluck out melodies on the piano, and dabble in singing. Before the age of ten, this driven performer found herself in a professional recording studio.
Perhaps it was her upbringing which aided her in such heady endeavours. Spillane recalls an early childhood filled with music, which is not surprising, given that she comes from a long line of musicians. Later in life she would throw herself into the performing with a passion, becoming immersed in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s singer/songwriter movement.
To this day, she credits such idiosyncratic artists as Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Carly Simon and Carole King as seminal influences on what would later become her own soulful, emotionally direct approach to song craft.
“I’m inspired by the world around me,” she says. “I find music in every corner and in every person I meet.”
The act of drawing inspiration from personal relationships and acquaintances is not a new development in the world of popular music, but in the case of Spillane’s brand-new album Painting The Blues, it was key to developing the material which makes up the emotional core of the record.
“This CD is a little different from my previous two,” Spillane opines. “I think it’ll probably come as a slight surprise to those who have heard those. Folks know me for being more bluesy than anything else, but this is more similar to folk blues than the things I’ve recorded in the past.”
“My first album, Gut Feeling, was more of a jazzy, contemporary blues sound. This one reflects that a little bit as well, but I have a feeling that people will see this as me moving in more of. — I don’t know what you’d call it. Maybe a new direction?”
Jan’s right in assuming the mood and orchestration of Painting The Blues may throw some of her longtime fans for a bit of a loop. At first blush, her description of the record as being similar to “folk blues” will seem inaccurate —if one assumes that to mean the rural, country blues typified by early Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins or Sleepy John Estes LPs— but if Spillane is referring to a mixture of both contemporary, keyboard-based blues and modern folk, then her description is on the money.
The dozen cuts on this independently released CD run the gamut from the country-tinged opener “5-Star Hotel,” which sounds not unlike Jan’s idol Joni Mitchell channelling the idyllic, jovial Americana of John Prine, to the plaintive, solo piano ballad “Sure Is Nice” — a brooding paean to true love and happiness that one could easily imagine Aretha Franklin cutting down in Muscle Shoals for producer Jerry Wexler (back in her Atlantic Records years).
As if that weren’t enough of a stretch, the driving drumbeat and interplay between acoustic and electric guitars help propel “The Bitter End” into the kind of modern, adult-oriented female-led folk-rock commonly associated with The Indigo Girls or Suzanne Vega.
Spillane says the new record is all over the map in part because of the genesis of the material itself.
“I consider this to be my most inspired CD to date,” she explains. “By that I mean that many of the songs were inspired by the people who have touched my life in meaningful ways.”
“I think that when we started working on the album, there were little more than a few cuts on there that were definitely inspired by particular people. Then as work progressed from one studio to the next, I started to find myself becoming even more inspired by the other musicians on the record. The energy I get from being around other creative players is similar to the feeling of writing the songs by myself, but in the case of these sessions, it wound up being more than I had imagined. I was really pleased with the outcome.”
Her positive feelings about the finished product are well-founded, as the record features no shortage of ace regional players, all of whom add their own unique contributions to Spillane’s often sparse compositions.
A quick glance through the liner notes spotlights the diverse roster of talent involved: Bassist Allen Andrews, percussionist Marc Cordray, guitarists Miles Hendrix, Ben Wells and Kevin Rose, drummer and bassist Annie Allman and pedal steel guy Tommy Butler all make significant contributions to the gentle, sympathetic ensemble sound that defines the disc.
Spillane says that this unusual conglomeration of artists from all different genres —from rock to pop to jazz to country— played a great role in shaping the overall feel of Painting The Blues.
“I hand-picked all of the players on this album, which wasn’t always the case on my past CDs, and I had already played with all of these folks except for Tommy. I definitely welcomed ideas from all the musicians, and especially from Kevin the producer and Miles the engineer. I actually had enough material for two complete albums when I started work on this CD, and I’d even laid down a few tracks for the next one! Kevin said we’d have to pick and choose what would go on this album and concentrate on that or we’d never get done, and he was right.”
Sessions for this record took place at two different local studios — both of which coincidentally underwent drastic upgrades and renovations during that time.
“It actually started over at (producer/engineer) Phil Hadaway’s 3180 Media Group, in July of 2002,” Jan explains. “Then Phil was moving his facilities and wanted to see if Kevin could take over at Elevated Basement Studio.”
Ultimately, a few songs were completely re-done with Rose at the helm.
“I had a bit of a different take on them, and some new writing came into play that ended up on this record. That’s happened on every one of my albums,” she admits.
“I let creativity flow, and if I get excited about something that I write while a CD is being produced, I’ll put it on there.”
For eleven years now, Spillane has made her living as a self-employed bookeeper, but at the end of 2005, she decided to concentrate on her own music full-time, with the exception of a few longtime clients. She’s glad she finally took the plunge and devoted her life to pursuing the dream of becoming a full-time songwriter.
While she plays in this area regularly, her gigs are nowhere near as frequent as those by musicians who mix in popular cover tunes with their own originals. Spillane insists that she’s fine with that.
“I used to play a lot of covers in the past when I did solo gigs, because that’s kind of what’s expected of you around here. But now I usually appear with Ben Wells, Annie Allman, Marc Cordray or (guitarist) John Banks, and when I do, we play my music. It can be difficult to find local gigs, but there’s some great places that are open to original stuff, like Tubby’s on River Street and Basil’s Pizza and Deli on Wilmington Island. Offers come in and I accept. So far, so good.”
Of late, the most encouraging response Spillane has received to her songwriting skills and self-financed albums has come from over five hundred miles away in a city known as much for breaking hearts as for making careers.
“I’ve played in Nashville eight times in the past three months,” says Spillane. “At well-known songwriter hangouts like The Bluebird and Douglas’ Corner Café. I’ve probably played Open Mic Night at The Bluebird a thousand times in the past fifteen years, and I’m surprised at how great I’ve been going over lately.”
“Depending on my work schedule, I used to go up there and stay for a month, come back for two days and then head back up there again. That was possible because with the aid of a portable computer, I could take my job with me.”
Spillane says that although she loves to perform live in front of an audience, it’s as a published songwriter that she really hopes to both earn her living and make her mark in the music world.
“I’d love to plug my music to other artists, or to have the songs used in films or TV shows. I’ve just signed a representation agreement with the Portia Entertainment Group and they’re trying to get my song “Ole Blue Jeans” used in a national clothing commercial. As far as the publishing world goes, I know nothing truly happens overnight, but I feel things are in the making.”
Regardless of any short-term success, Jan says she’s making music her top priority now, and giving it all she’s got.
“I’m feeling pretty free these days. I still have obligations to my home, my husband and family —they’re the most important things in my life— but music is right up there with them.”
Spillane says she’s eager to finish up her next album and would love to be able to release it within a year. For now, however, she foresees plenty more gigs and plenty more road trips to Nashville — no matter how big or small the gigs may be.
“I’ll sing to zero and I’ll sing to a million,” she laughs.
At 7 pm Saturday, Jan Spillane and some for the above-mentioned backing musicians celebrate the release of Painting The Blues with a free concert and party at Sea Dawgs on Tybee Island. There will be complimentary hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar available. For more information, call 786-4745.