Known for her stunning vocals, as well as her deeply personal and poetic lyrics, Jodi James has been a Baton Rouge music staple for several years. Despite traveling the United States and living in major cultural hubs such as New York City and San Francisco, she’s found a sense of community in the Baton Rouge area that keeps her from wandering too far.
“In addition to my family, I have a musical family,” she says. “Baton Rouge is special. I’m more inspired here.”
We’ve heard a similar refrain from other local musicians. Whereas other cities are home to a cutthroat atmosphere that undermines a musician’s craft, the Red Stick seems to offer a sense of camaraderie and support. James responds to that undercurrent, and it’s a central reason why she chooses to stay and pursue music in Louisiana.
But that isn’t to say her talents haven’t brought her opportunities elsewhere. Roughly two years ago, she played Ironwood Market: Art on the Tracks festival in McComb, Miss. Music manager Ralph Price happened to be walking by James’ stage and heard her sing. Price approached her after the show and offered to manage her.
That relationship led directly to Nashville. She began driving up to the city regularly to meet with a host of people involved in the music industry. “I started developing these really great friendships and business relationships in Nashville,” she says. “Ralph makes it as productive as possible.”
Initially, James believed she needed to move to Nashville, and that belief became stronger when a brand-new publishing company offered her a contract. “They were going to pay me to write songs for them,” she says. Something didn’t feel right about the deal, though, and after many discussions with Price, James decided not to sign. The company ended up folding shortly after that, and any work she produced for them would’ve gone with it. “Thank God we didn’t,” James remarks.
The music industry in Nashville posed a challenge for this musician so personally involved with the songwriting process. “I want the audience to hear what I have to say,” she says. “I’m still making Nashville connections, but through Baton Rouge.”
She’s also collaborating often with musicians between the two hubs. One of those is singer-songwriter Austin Lucas, who passed through Baton Rouge last fall to play at Mud and Water. James explains, “Every time I go to Nashville, we meet up. We’ve collaborated; we’ve co-written a song.”
James also formed a strong writing partnership with James Dupree, a Lafayette native now living in Nashville and signed to Warner Bros. Records. “I’m picky about my writing partners because of the personal nature of my writing,” she says. “[Dupree] is a familiar home connection.”
Most known for her solo acoustic sets on stage, James plans to do more in 2014 with her full band, Jodi James & Company. “The band is great because they understand how important the lyrics are, and their overall sound doesn’t drown out what I want to communicate,” she says.
The band, which includes Bo Jamison on guitar, David Hinson on upright bass and Micah Blouin on drums, will head to the studio later this year to record a full LP. James has only produced EPs so far, and she says she’s looking forward to expanding her sound and content with a larger work.