Jana Pochop is “a self-proclaimed wanderer with a penchant for pop songs and slow drip coffee” from Albuquerque, New Mexico. She moved to Austin in 2006 to become part of the Texas music scene, and has released three solo EP’s and several singles. Her new full-length album is titled The Astronaut.
Because of the pandemic, Pochop was able to collaborate remotely with many of her musical heroes, and they appear on several tracks within this album. Pochop herself sings and plays acoustic guitars, with Shawnee Kilgore sharing lead vocals on four tracks along with Daniel Barrett on background vocals. I’ll note the other musicians when possible. Recording took place at the Congress House Studio in Austin, Texas. Daniel Barrett was the producer, with mixing and mastering by Mark Hallman.
Regarding the use of her “remote collaborators,” Pochop notes: “We wanted to maintain the acoustic guitar driven spirit of how I had written the songs, while fleshing them out into something lush and sonically beautiful.” Thematically, “the songs all seem to point to what I refer to as my "ongoing existential crisis" asking why we are here, thinking about huge amount of time that precedes us that make us specks of dust in the grand scheme, but also paying attention to those very important, personal moments we all experience during our time on this planet.”
“Head Spin” draws us into a comforting, enveloping world of deep picked acoustic guitars, luminescent keyboards by Frank LoCrasto and lush background vocals by Shawnee Kilgore and Mark Hallman. Pochop’s lead vocals have a sweet, higher pitched quality that somewhat recalls Nanci Griffith without being a carbon copy. The song itself is a great idea, concerning how we all thought the future would be (flying cars, etc.) and how it actually seems to be turning out. Ephraim Owens guests on trumpet solo, giving the track a late ’70s Joni Mitchell vibe. Eric Holden and Sean Hutchinson nail down the bass and drums respectively.
In “As Long As It Feels Right” Pochop’s phrasing really does remind me of Nanci Griffith, especially when she says “Minne-SO-ta.” This track has a lovely folk-country feel thanks to the pedal steel, lap steel and ukulele of Lloyd Maines. This song feels like a bittersweet chart buster, and also features bassist Don Dixon (sideman for Mary Chapin Carpenter and producer for R.E.M. and Gin Blossoms). “Matador” continues in the same minor-key vein with more of those expansive chorus vocals and guest Betty Soo on accordion. Coming so close on the hells of “As Long,” it takes a short while to realize it’s every bit as good.
The essentially acoustic “The Hard Part” is co-written and harmonized with Shawnee Kilgore, with the interesting addition of flute-like Mellotron by Mark Hallman. The chorus vocals are quite arresting: “It’s a fine, fine line / between the beat and the break of a heart / I guess it’s by design / and that’s the hard part.” Lloyd Maines returns on ace pedal steel for the country-style “Quiet All The Time” with another vocal appearance by Shawnee Kilgore, whose voice matches Pochop’s in tonality and quiet power. She also appears in “Exit Plan” which lyrically nails our current, anxious times and the way we choose to deal with it: “Nostalgia is a drug if it hits you right / Tinsel on the tree, America Online / We keep a pill bottle on the night stand / In case the terrors of the night are sending telegrams / of our Exit Plan.” Uncomfortably close to home!
“Solar System” is another picked-acoustic gem that benefits mightily from the expansive cello by Brian Standefer and Mark Hallman’s Mellotron. “Maps” brings Pochop’s concerns full-circle very much like our own mortality, and though it feels sad, it’s certainly a beautiful trip getting there. Brian Standefer again binds the song together with his cello, along with Eliza Gilkyson on background vocals.
Pochop is an amazingly talented singer/songwriter and every one of these tracks touched me in some way. I can’t imagine anything holding her back in the future!
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