Ida Jo has been performing and recording with Mike Droho and the Compass Rose for some time, providing violin and backup vocals. She’s appeared on albums by Scott Lamps, Tangled Up in Blue and fellow Compass Rose mate Anthony Lamarr’s upcoming release. She was also part of the stellar backup band Lamps put together to back Mark Harrod on his Quietly Marching CD. Providence, her first recording, is very different and refreshingly so. Ida Jo combines soulful, rhythm and blues with a folk sensibility and jazz elements to create something uniquely her own. The trio that recorded this album is indicative of its diversity as the lineup is unusual: Ida Jo on vocals and violin, Scott Lamps (who also produced) on bass and Jordan Cohen on drums (Fred Ecenrode is currently playing drums with the group). Mike Zirkel, the engineer extraordinaire from the late Smart Studios, is also credited and there are keyboards on the album so perhaps Zirkel played these parts. Lamps also plays banjo on one of the tracks.
Perhaps most surprising is not Ida Jo’s violin playing, which is stellar, but her vocals. The twelve songs on Providence are basically vocal songs in the three-minute range. Her voice has a pleasing timbre, a rich alto with very little vibrato. Her pitch can lean a bit flat in spots but when she hits the notes just right, she soars. She’s not charted an easy course vocally as these songs have complex melodies that she liberally inflects upon. The violin is employed as a rhythm instrument more than a lead instrument and what solos she does play are brief and to the point. She uses what’s known as a “chopping” method, used by very few fiddle players in the world, to create this rhythmic sound.
The album leads off with what is perhaps the best track, “Colors.” Here the violin gets a bit of the spotlight as well as she uses the song’s central phrase to toss in a fast and fluid run. “Colors” takes 10/4 time and turns it into a cool and breezy pop song. She also introduces dark subject matter that runs throughout the rest of the album; themes of perseverance, self-sustenance, pain, alienation and reaffirmation. The album’s characters are bound together by fate. This approach gives Providence a distinctly American feel.
“Go Easy” is another standout, the moaning organ gives the song a gospel blues feel while Ida Jo delivers one her best vocal performances. This track and two others were written by Lamps. Ida Jo composed the rest of the album. The title track sounds like a Sting song, a deceptively simple chord progression with a beautiful melody line. The violin has an excellent, natural quality throughout, and the perfectly concise solo on “Providence” is a case-in-point that this album is about songs, not soloing. “He’ll Never Know” is a haunting ballad featuring Lamps on banjo. It’s a very well-written (Lamps) track with excellent lyrics. It has a country/Americana feel and when Ida Jo hits the bridge you can feel the confidence in her voice affect her pitch and delivery. “Radio” is similarly haunting, an exercise in minimalism, with just keys and voice. The violin does get a chance to stretch a bit during the middle section on “When it Rains.”
There is little doubt that Ida Jo’s talents are in demand but Providence should give her the platform on which to build her own legacy of songs. It is Ida Jo’s personality that shines through on Providence, and that may be its biggest accomplishment. A personality that is rich in experience and introspection; one that people accept as authentic in artists they appreciate most and is capable of moving them in a genuine and sincere manner.