Soulful, bold and honest.
That's how Duluth native Ida Jo describes her music.
Her very first musical memories are of her mother packing her up in the family Corolla and bringing her to see Greg Brown in concert. She begged her parents for a violin at age 6, but didn't start singing seriously until her college days, when she joined an a cappella ensemble. It was an odd and interesting start to a young woman's musical career.
Today the Madison resident has a new, sophomore recording called "Singer in the Band."
It features an interesting mix of very personal songs built around her expressive alto, with a couple of friends providing the rhythmic foundation on which Ida Jo can spread her wings. Her fiddle is used texturally and subtly and blends into the overall picture in subdued tones.
"When My Ship Comes In" is a contemplative ballad with soulful, understated piano from Scott Lamps.
"No (We Won't Take It)" is a funky little protest song that could be Occupy Duluth's theme song: "No we won't take it said a voice from the crowd, no we won't take it we will all stand our ground."
"Judgment" is a rollicking back-beat driven track with hand claps and percussive fiddle.
One of the peculiarities of "Singer in the Band" is Ida Jo's frequent use of non-standard time signatures. At least a third of the disc is made up of tracks in 5/4 (think Dave Brubeck's "Take Five") or something equally exotic. For fairly straight-ahead singer-songwriter material, it is an unusual twist. Most musicians, even very brilliant instrumentalists, don't feel that at home outside of 4/4 or 3/4 time.
Add to that Ida Jo's technique of combining her classical background (beginning with the standard Suzuki method) with folk fiddle stylings including "chopping" into something very individual where she can play rhythm, harmony and melody at the same time. This is something that some of the most brilliant guitarists work their way into, but I've never heard a violinist do the same.
Her resume includes being the recipient of the Emerson Scholarship to the Interlochen Arts Camps, plus performances at the Winnipeg Folk Festival and SXSW. She's a veteran of countless Texas Fiddle contests, and she studied the violin in the context of Finnish folk music.
She's gifted, she's accomplished, and she's still only 24 years old.
Ida Jo / "Singer in the Band"
Personnel: Ida Jo (vocals, violin), Scott Lamps (piano, bass), Jordan Cohen (drums, percussion)
Upcoming gig: 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, Beaner's Central, 324 N. Central Ave., Duluth, $7.
John Ziegler has worked in the music industry for 37 years as a radio host, interviewer, record producer and professional musician.