Every so often, I stumble upon an artist who just blows me away. Such is the case with Dutch singer-songwriter Jane Willow, who relocated to Dublin some seven years ago. She reached out to me a few weeks back – and wow. Just wow. One listen to her first single “On My Mind,” which was released in November of 2017, floored me. She counts Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen as influences, and they’re all evident, but I also hear strains of Van Morrison and Sandy Denny.

Her cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire,” which she posted to her YouTube channel late last year as part of an effort to fund her debut E.P., is likewise hypnotic. (If all goes according to plan, that E.P. should see the light of day this November. Visit her website for more information.) Of “I’m on Fire”: Check out the moment, at a little past two minutes in, when her voice trails off. It’s riveting.

Today sees the release of her sophomore single, “Onward Still.” It’s about pursuing one’s dreams and destiny, aka self-made fate, and is deceptively profound: “The future had no shape/before you made it take its form…” Like “On My Mind,” it’s mesmerizing. Check it out:

Me being me, after listening to both of those tracks, “I’m on Fire” and other clips, I couldn’t help but to ask Jane a few questions…

Did you grow up in a musical household?

Yes my dad plays the guitar and my mom sings in a choir. My grandfather wrote poems in 

English, while my uncle would turn these poems into songs. My music taste in my childhood left much to be desired, though. It wasn’t until I was 17 and discovered the Beatles and the American YouTube musician Terra Naomi that my music taste started changing – her songwriting was so genuine and her voice was so amazing. I recall I wanted to be like her at the time. But it wasn’t until I was 21 that I discovered Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, all of whom really shaped my sound.

How old were you when you began singing?

I’m told I started singing before I could talk at age 2. As a child I also used to present fake radio shows on my Sony cassette recorder. (Thank God I stopped doing that.) 

When I was 18 I applied for rock school as a singer but was told I couldn’t sing and should pursue songwriting. Then, at age 19, I got into rock school as a songwriter and got some lovely grades for my songwriting. Truth be told, I think my English lyrics were appalling and my singing was hit and miss. 

But I think all that changed once I realized I could express real emotion in my music, and that it could transport me to a place where I felt safe and understood. It took another few years, but I think I’ve now “fallen into” a voice and songwriting style that sounds like me. It still doesn’t mean I’m a great singer or songwriter, it just means I do what I feel I should be doing. I think people somehow gravitate to people that are real and honest in their music. I have to say I have been very moved by the response to my music now.

You took up songwriting and playing the guitar at age 17. What inspired you to do so? (Some singers never think of doing either.)

The YouTube musician Terra Naomi and the Beatles inspired me to write songs and play the guitar. Back then, I heard my dad play this version of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” on the guitar. I loved the way he played it and wanted to learn it on the guitar, too. I think I learned this book full of Beatles songs in a few months time. But long before I even knew how to play the guitar, I would write songs. I enjoyed it.

What led you to move to Ireland to pursue a music career?

To be honest, I think I needed a change. I was in rock school and I was told I was a great songwriter but not allowed to continue to the next year. I was heartbroken. Then I found out about Dublin, that people busk on the streets there, that people play music in Whelan’s until six in the morning. I thought I’d give music another go, but instead of sitting in music college all day, I’d actually play gigs as much as I could. It was by far the roughest year in my life, dealing with depression, while having no friends, no money and no real plan other than to play music. But I’m so glad I moved to Ireland. I think fear is the catharsis of courage and strength. You just have walk through it.

You cite Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen as influences. What draws you to their music? 

Their music feels real to me. Sometimes they hide behind some lyrical and melodic intellect, but they always reveal enough about themselves to keep me connected. When you listen to their music it feels like as if you know them personally. That’s a rare quality in songwriting.

What is the first album you purchased?

Hilary Duff. This is the part of my life I was hoping not to discuss – ha!

What is the last album you bought?

I don’t buy albums anymore. I prefer to go to gigs and support the artists in that way. 

What album(s) would you call your North Star and why? (Something that you never tire of, and turn to in both good and bad times.)

Anything Nick Drake. His music always managed to uplift my spirit. I so wish I’d known him.

Do you prefer digital/streaming, CDs or vinyl?

 I stream. But recently I got really into listening to the radio. There’s a few late night radio shows I’m hooked on.

Do you get a chance to go to concerts? What are a few of the more memorable ones you’ve been to?

I’ve never seen Leonard Cohen, but I did get to see Paul Simon and Paul McCartney. They were lovely. Most memorable was recently when I saw Bedouine. Just her, her guitar and her incredible songs. Stunning.

Most folks are familiar with the cliche “where all the bodies are buried,” and understand that it’s a metaphor about knowing secrets. In my case, though, it’s more like I know where all the pot holes are – and I’m speaking literally. From sunken manhole covers to tire-killing craters, I know when and where to slide to the side to avoid a slew of unpleasant bumps regardless of how fast or slow traffic is going, and whether or not I can actually see beneath the car in front of me. Like others in countless communities across the country, I’ve been driving the same set of streets for the bulk of my life. Some take me to work, some to family and friends, and some to stores. No matter where I’m going, the odds are good that I’ve driven the same roads before.

Which leads to this: Just as my life’s trek was grooving along with minimal bumps, I’ve hit a stretch of ripped-up road: In the coming months, the OGC’s HQ will be transitioning from the Philly ‘burbs to North Carolina’s Durham region.

Yeah, I know. Talk about your major moves.

But the thing about a ripped-up road is this: It’s rarely ripped up for long. In this neck of the woods, the cause is usually due to PennDOT milling old asphalt before laying down a new batch. It’s temporary, in other words, and in time the ride will be better than before.

On Thursday, Diane and I drove down to explore the area. The small slice of Durham that we saw, the American Tobacco Historic District, reminded me of Philadelphia’s brick-laden Old City neighborhood, while the outlying communities of Cary and Chapel Hill conjured such Philly suburbs as Horsham, Warminster and Warrington. Carrboro – home to the legendary Cat’s Cradle – had a funkier, New Hope/South Street vibe. Each looked like a good place to call home.

Anyway, on the ride down and again on the ride north on Saturday, we listened to – what else? – music. But unlike years long ago, when one was at the mercy of the radio, or the tapes and CDs one remembered to bring, we simply clicked on Apple Music, picked a title, and hit play.

Our first agreed-upon choice: Diane Birch’s Bible Belt. The album (my top pick for 2009) has retained its original luster, and rightly deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Carole King’s Tapestry – not that anyone but my Diane and I would say so, I suppose. It has a timeless vibe.

I should add that the Church of Birch pastor has a new single slated for release in the next week. Look for it. Buy it. She has a knack for writing songs that take up residence in the soul like few others.

My second choice: Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John, which – thus far – rates as my favorite album of 2018. “Suspended in Time” is simply sublime, as is the album as a whole.

My third choice: Another of my favorites of this year, Erin O’Dowd’s Old Town. To quote my wife, “It’s excellent.” (There’s a magic to be found in the album’s grooves.)

My last choice: the new Stone Foundation album, Everybody, Anyone, which I plan to review in full next week. It mixes a wide variety of influences into a very cool, original whole.

My original plan was to review this album alongside the disposable camera I ordered from Mikaela Davis’ web store, but the camera was delayed…and then processing the film took two weeks. (Are there no more one-hour photo shops in this land?) And then…well, I didn’t want to rave about this while damning that. It didn’t seem fair.

Make no mistake: Delivery is a superb set. Echoes of the Day-Glo 1970s can be heard throughout the grooves of the full-length debut of the Rochester, N.Y., singer-songwriter (and harpist!). She stirs a sumptuous sonic stew that, somewhat similar to the Staves-branded brew, is spiced by sounds that are simultaneously retro and modern. Her recipe, however, is a tad more funky than theirs. 

And, like theirs, it’s quite addictive.

The title track is a good example. The opening chords conjure Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me,” but morph into a Dylanesque parable about self-doubt (“I’m not in control/I’m not cut out for this/So I took it back to New York/and cried to my mom, oh/I thought I’d know me by now…”).

I’ve featured it before, of course, along with the propulsive “Get Gone.” In another era, both would be getting played to death on radio.

The deceptively breezy “In My Groove” is another highlight. A strong undertow flows beneath its seemingly gentle current. “I’m not the one who’s gonna change the world/or change the way you want to live.”

Here she is in the Paste Studios performing it:

“All I Do Is Disappear” explores love and self-doubt, of pulling away instead of leaning in to commitment. (“My love is like the setting sun/It doesn’t wait for anyone/But how can I make myself clear when/All I do is disappear?”)

Since I mentioned the Staves up top, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the sisters Staveley-Taylor lend their angelic harmonies to two songs. The stark “Emily” explores what happens when a broken heart leads to a broken mind. The sublime “Pure Divine Love,” which closes the album, features a George Harrison vibe alongside Mikaela’s swirling harp.

In short: Seek out Delivery. I’ve been enjoying it since its July 13th release, and enjoying it more with each listen – always the mark of a strong album.

On a chilly eve in late December 2014, Diane and I traveled from our suburban enclave to center-city Philadelphia, home to the region’s best concert hall (acoustically speaking, that is), the Kimmel Center. It was for no mere concert, however. It was for an audience with the queen – the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. 

She was touring in support of her then-recent Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics.

It was a great, if odd show. The evening began with “(Your Love Is Lifting Me) Higher and Higher,” and included such stalwarts as “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You,” “Oh Me Oh My (I’m a Fool for You Baby),” “Ain’t No Way,” “Angel,” “Don’t Play That Song,” “Freeway of Love” and – of course – “Respect,” as well as her cover of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” which she turned into a medley with “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” The Williams Brothers joined her for “Precious Memories.” Also in the set: the Christmas carol “O Holy Night”; “The Way We Were” (which she sang offstage); and “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” (Yes, you read that last one right – the Irving Berlin song from Annie Get Your Gun. It was reminiscent of when we saw Van Morrison, decades earlier, cover “Send in the Clowns.”)

Like I said, it was a great, if odd show. 

Other oddities: After 30 minutes, or thereabouts, she left the stage for a full 10 minutes. While the band vamped, we were treated to pictures from her holiday party. And, after singing with the Williams Brothers, she left the stage and let them take the spotlight for a few songs.

It wasn’t the best concert I’ve seen in my life – but it gave glimpses of what Aretha must have been like in a live setting in, say, 1970 or ’71.

I’ve uploaded my video of “Respect” and the Berlin send-off to YouTube (but am leaving it unlisted due to its poor quality):

The Allentown Morning Call reviewed the show, which can be found here. Philadelphia Magazine reviewed it, too. 

And Diane, who saw Aretha once before, asked to chime in:

The weirdness of the show didn’t matter to me—Aretha invited us (the audience) into her world for a bit and played songs that are the heartbeat soundtrack to my life. Jeff surprised me with tickets to this show, which was a good thing, because the first time I saw Aretha was a show in Atlantic City, and I left it rather disgruntled with the idea of never seeing her live again. She barely acknowledged the audience’s existence and seemed put out at being there.

This show—even with the pictures of her party and the Williams Brothers—was a much better memory to have of the greatest woman performer in rock and soul, the icon, the Queen. I walked down to the front when she performed the song that never gets old or careworn. Aretha may be gone but ‘Respect’ and her musical legacy will never suffer with the aging process.

Thank you, Jeff, for getting those tickets!