Exploring Madison's Music Scene
May 23, 2013
08:31 AMLocal Sounds
Ida Jo: A New Kind of Singer/Songwriter
When you think of a singer/songwriter, a vision of either a guitarist or pianist comes to mind, and it’s not often that you find a deviation from that. Meet Ida Jo Pajunen, who goes by the name Ida Jo, and is a singer/songwriter who brandishes a different instrument—the violin.
It’s likely you’ve never heard of Ida Jo, but she’s been quietly amassing a solid following and resume. She’s been nominated for several Madison Area Music Awards and this year she is a five-time nominee including a nomination for the coveted Artist of the Year award. She’s also nominated for Instrumentalist of the Year (Strings), Folk/Americana Performer of the Year, Folk/Americana Song of the Year, and Folk/Americana Album of the Year (for Uncharted, her third release). She was recognized earlier this year by the Wisconsin Area Music Industry Awards (WAMIs), who honored her with the Female Vocalist of the Year award.
Ida Jo debuted in 2010 with her album Providence (read a review here) and quickly earned media salvos for her direct, honest approach to songwriting as well as her “chopping” technique on the violin. There are only a few artists in the country who employ this percussive style of playing. She’s since made countless appearances, including performances at South by Southwest in Austin and at Summerfest. In addition to writing, recording and performing, Ida Jo is a member of the folk-pop trio Bello, who released an impressive debut recording last year (you can read a review here). She also directs and instructs Midnight Voices, an all-female high-school a capella group.
Recently, Ida Jo released her fourth recording, For Better for Worse, and the album is available as a name-your-price download here. Remaining in the same vein as her previous outings, these are personal songs with spare production and arrangements that can best be described as minimal. She continues to work closely with Scott Lamps, a giant local talent who does not get the credit he deserves (but that’s another story). Unlike her other albums, however, For Better for Worse is a true solo performance and production effort, with Lamps assisting only in the mix. What’s surprising is how the violin sometimes takes a back seat to piano-driven compositions.
The songs grapple with the quest for self-discovery and the struggles with being an artist and its subsequent ups and downs. “I woke up as a painter, thinking it could be enough for me” she sings to the lonely backdrop of her violin on “Glory.” “Flame” is a showcase for her violin—layers of chopping and bowing enhanced by inspired soloing. The title track is as bleak as anything she’s done to date, “Everything is as it should be / For better, for worse.” It’s a study in melancholy.
“War/Peace” employs ghostly layered vocals to great effect over plucked violin. At times Ida Jo’s music seems to draw deeply from the tradition of early American spirituals of which “Sweet Inncocent Child” is a prime example dealing with the afterlife: “Sweet innocent child / You are coming home / Where you’ll be with your father and your mother too.”
“How to Let Go” is a gorgeous track, reflecting on the longing for truth and the search for substance. It’s the first of three tracks where a simply stated piano figure provides the backdrop while the strings provide emphasis only where needed. The second is “Once Before,” which also deals with crossing over, using a train analogy comparable to the classic “Hear My Train A Comin’.” “City That Dreams” closes the album in a similar fashion; the focal point being Ida Jo’s breathy alto while piano drives the accompaniment.