Barbara Jean on Gravel Road Touring: We're taking it further

Barbara Jean on Gravel Road Touring: We're taking it further
Photo by Stephen Hoglund

Barbara Jean has got the most startling set of eyes. They are a light sea-foam green, rimmed in dark forest, and they stare back at you with no small amount of directness. In some ways, between her eyes and the way she concentrates on the conversation, she recalls the physicality of her native North Shore town.

"I lived in the country, about ten miles out of town, on a farm, in a house that I built. It was very rural, very serene, very beautiful. I had wolves in my yard, deer... you could see the lake [Superior], a little sliver of it, from the porch at my house. It's hard to explain," says Barbara Jean of her home near Grand Marais. "I think the environment up there, anyone who's been up there to the North Shore, you see how breathtakingly beautiful it is, and when you live there, I think it really becomes part of your consciousness -- all that open space and the wildness of it just sort of gets imprinted on you in your psyche in a way that you don't totally realize until you're not around it." 

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Barbara Jean on the North Shore, her love of the banjo, and moving to the Cities

There's a lot in Barbara Jean's music that comes out that way, too: sparse banjo and fiddle arrangements that swell and temper with Jean's quiet-storm vocals. Her November 2012-released debut album, The Great Escape, showed off Jean's talents as a songwriter with startling clarity, through lush imagery that feels as rooted in the Midwestern landscape as Barbara Jean herself.

It hasn't been six months since Barbara Jean made her big move to the Twin Cities, and in that time, she's managed to align herself with the musician-cooperative Gravel Road Touring. This Friday, at the Cedar Cultural Center, fans of Barbara Jean -- as well as local artists Chastity Brown and Actual Wolf -- will have the opportunity to discover exactly what Gravel Road Touring is all about at the Gravel Road Touring Showcase.

"We sat down one day kind of informally, just me and Kara [Olson, Head Agent] and Chastity and David Huckfelt from the Pines. We were like, 'Wouldn't it be cool to actually take a step out with Gravel Road Touring and maybe put it a little bit more on the map?'" says Jean of the first beginnings of the showcase. "It's always just been a sort of background artists' co-op. So Chastity [Brown] and Actual Wolf [Eric Pollard] and I were all on there, and we just thought it would be cool to put a showcase together, and put it on in a good listening room, which is what the Cedar is."

For Jean, Friday night's show is a chance to step things up in regards to both Gravel Road Touring and her music.

"Moving to the city was just a big part of taking it another step further. The North Shore is great, but you can't really go anywhere from there -- it's so remote and removed," explains Jean. "I wanted to be in a place where there's more venues, more people to work with and collaborate with. That's absolutely what's happened since I've been down here. I feel like I've been super lucky, making connections and meeting some top-notch folks.... And with Gravel Road Touring, it's sort of by and for artists, so we want to kind of get out there. Like, 'Hey world, here we are, good to go,' kind of thing."

Barbara Jean will perform on Friday night at the Cedar Cultural Center as part of the Gravel Road Touring Showcase along with Actual Wolf and Chastity Brown. Doors at 7 p.m. $15. All ages. Details here

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