Virginia native Janie Barnett cut her teeth on bluegrass festivals, church coffeehouses, and the American Folklife Festival. When she met iconic Americana barnstormer and Newgrass pioneer John Hartford at Folklife, so began her love affair with the alternate roots movement. “I couldn’t commit to being a 100mph flat-picker. But I fell in love with those sounds. And behind every great song was a renegade twist to be had. That renegade twist is really part of my DNA.” The seeds were planted for a lifelong quest for a hybrid style that favored roots-music instruments, the whimsical storytelling of her favorite author John Steinbeck, and the social passions of one who grew up in the backyard of Washington D.C.
One can see the roots of this renegade impulse throughout Barnett’s growing up. Socialist grandparents on one side, a newsman father, and a labor advocate mother. Barnett defected from the local high school for boarding school, where, ironically, she found her tribe of outside-the-box musicians. She then defected from the Ivy League to play in a roots and reggae band in New Hampshire and Cambridge, then ultimately defecting from the New England music scene to New York City.
“New York was a mecca for me, as it is for so many. I knew the early folk scene had dissipated, but I figured there was something in the air – or the water – that would drive me towards the music and the tribe I was searching for.“ And then another unlikely turn. Barnett rose in the freelance world, making a name for herself as a smart, precise, and professional chameleon musician, singing on countless film, tv and commercial projects, as well as singing backup for iconic stars like Linda Ronstadt, Celine Dion, and Rickie Lee Jones. Appearances on SNL, The Today Show, membership in an elite session musician supergroup – these were the bookings of that time. “Success in this world has been very important to me, because I value craft so much. It was gratifying to have that validated. I was asked to sing every style convincingly – pop, blues, rock, jazz. Sound like Linda, they would demand, or Bonnie, or Lucinda, these were singers I had backed up on live gigs. It was an oddly satisfying challenge. It also came at a time when I had to turn down tours, because I was raising a daughter. Disappearing for weeks at a time was not an option I was willing to take.” During this time Barnett began her relationship with Berklee College of Music, accepting the part time position of Associate Professor, mentoring emerging singer-songwriters and training them to arrange and lead their own ensembles.
Barnett rose to become one of the top 20 session singer calls, while continuing her search for her own essential expression. The essential songs, the essential timbre, the core family of musicians. “I was also going through the long process of my marriage ending. My partner and I needed to set each other free in order to discover ourselves. I recognized I had to own that process in the music.” Several collections of music were released through those years, but none Barnett felt had fully captured her authentic voice as a writer or musician.
“You See This River” is the culmination of Barnett’s years of searching and exploring, and living a life that many of us find ourselves living: “By trial and error we find ourselves, we retrieve ourselves from our own fires and folly. We poke and prod and with luck we find our authentic selves and stop looking over our shoulders. The renegade is part of my DNA in a good way, but it also played a role in running from myself. This record, these songs, reflect a period where I stopped running. So the stories reflect the process, and the sound reflects the result. ”
Praise for the record include Performing Songwriter Magazine’s founder, Lydia Hutchinson: “I have been playing [You See This River] in my kitchen now all day today. I. Love. It. It’s so beautiful…the melodies, arrangements, the voice…the whole vibe. It’s so consistently good, one of those rare recordings you can listen to all the way through, every track.” Barnett notes that many fans report they love listening in their cars. “I love that comment, because it ties in to the idea that this collection is about travelling and navigating.” Barnett’s live shows, with and without the fuller Blue Room, reveal a strong community connection to these themes of self-knowledge, as well as civic engagement, gun culture, spirituality, and parenting.
The stories here also reflect the primal instinct for nostalgia, the beautiful and terrible journey up and down the river. The persistence, romanticism, and pig-headedness of humans. We navigate the twists and turns of the river, feeling watched by those on the banks. All we know for sure is that we will float another day.
[This] album is so beautiful. I love it, honored to be on it! It’s touching, heartfelt, and the lyrics are wonderful. It’s on replay in my car!
–Paula Cole; Grammy-winning recording artist
I have been playing [You See This River] in my kitchen now all day today.
I. Love. It. It’s so beautiful — the melodies, arrangements, the voice … the whole vibe. It’s so consistently good, one of those rare recordings you can listen to all the way through, every track.
–Lydia Hutchinson; Publisher/Editor of Performing Songwriter Magazine
What I like about You See This River is that it’s an album. It’s a sit down on the sofa and listen from beginning to end album. The songs and the fabulous production intertwine with seductive consistency. This album is worth your time.
–Cliff Eberhardt; Red House recording artist
I thought the album was beautiful. I put it on last night… and was really impressed. Beautifully played and arranged and sung.
Janie Barnett turns the bumps, bruises, and joys of life into evocative and relatable songs…and makes it sound easy… which ain’t easy.
–Kenny White; Recording artist and 2016 Kerrville Music Festival judge
You See This River is a constant delight from beginning to end. The fluid expressiveness of Janie Barnett’s voice weaves its magic on the exquisite songs. This is Americana at its best!
–Janice Pendarvis; vocalist (Sting, David Bowie, Steely Dan)
BOOKING AND INFORMATION
Vera Shep / Two Sheps That Pass…
RADIO PROMOTION & in-studio performances and interviews
Lisa Grey / Blue River Promotions