Under-the radar singer/songwriter surrounds herself with talented musicians to make a sensitive, thoughtful, beautiful album that deserves to be heard more widely.
Jana Pochop has been paying her dues. Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, she relocated to Austin, Texas in 2006 with every intention of finding her place in that city’s legendary music scene. She didn’t hold back, pitching up at any venue or event that offered a chance for her to play her music. In this case, hard work paid off. She may not have become a household name, but she’s certainly honed her talents and, perhaps just as importantly, she’s met a lot of other musicians and made a lot of friends. All of that has had a profoundly positive impact on this album.
‘The Astronaut‘ was produced by Daniel Barrett (Ruthie Foster, Grace Pettis), and mixed and mastered by Mark Halman (Ani Di Franco, Eliza Gilkysonn and Carole King). Pochop certainly doesn’t look out of place on that list. If she’s assembled an impressive team behind the mixing desk, she’s got an even more impressive list of contributors playing on the album: Sean Hutchinson (Taylor Swift) on drums; Duke Levine (Aimee Mann) on guitar; Lloyd Manes (the Chicks) on pedal steel; Don Dixon (REM) on bass; Ephraim Owens (Sheryl Crow) on trumpet; BettySoo (Nobody’s Girl) on accordion; Eric Holden (Shakira) on bass; Brian Standefer (Alejandro Escovedo) on cello; and Frank LoCrasto (Fruit Bats) on keys. That’s an impressive line-up by anyone’s reckoning. Pretty good friends to have.
However, all of that talent wouldn’t be worth much in itself unless the songs could support such illustrious contributors. Happily for Pochop, these songs certainly can. Pochop herself is a lovely singer and a very fine guitarist. She tracked all her vocal and guitar parts in just a couple of days but they still sound flawless. There’s something familiar sounding in her voice, but I struggled to pin it down. Are there shades of Iris DeMent? Mary Gauthier? Or maybe it’s the mighty Laura Cantrell… but not really any of them… or is it maybe a little bit of them all? Anyway, she sounds great across a fine collection of eight songs.
Highlights? Hard to choose. ‘Head Spin’ is a strong opening track, making it clear from the off that there’s a lot more going on than first hits the ears… that lovely muted trumpet part for one thing. ‘As Long As It Feels Right’, is a proper earworm. ‘Quiet All the Time’ is the most ‘country’ sounding track, with some properly dreamy pedal steel running through it, and ‘Maps’, is a beautiful album closer. Pochop has a finely tuned ear for a memorable melody and possibly an even finer ear for a deft lyrical insight. Seriously, you could pick out any of the eight tracks for a special mention. Okay, maybe you could say there’s nothing startling or out of the box here, but that doesn’t sound like what Pochop is aiming for. From the evidence of this album, she seems all about striving for quality. Quality songs, quality musicians, quality singing. If quality is your thing, give Jana Pochop’s ‘The Astronaut’ several listens.