Singer/songwriter Jane Kramer (not to be confused with Jana Kramer), who has deep ties to the Asheville, North Carolina music scene, is back in town with a brand new second solo album. After a run on the West Coast, Jane Kramer pulled up stakes in Portland, Oregon, and returned to Western North Carolina this summer. Kramer’s new full-length release, Carnival of Hopes, shows off her connections to Appalachian balladry, a craft she first encountered at Warren Wilson College and honed while performing with the Asheville based all-female trio, the Barrel House Mamas, who helped reintroduce Americana music to the Blue Ridge Mountains a decade ago. However, her songwriting and vocals shine best when Kramer branches out on her own as a solo artist.
“Carnival of Hopes is both celebratory and frank. It is filled with songs of regret and insight found after deep self-reflection. At its core, the album tells the story of facing down dark inner demons while still clinging to ‘that tiny chirping of light in your bones that somehow keeps you tethered to keeping on,’” Kramer says. “Anyone who has stared down the barrel of themselves and their failures and fears and shipwrecked loves has scraped up against the bottom of their own capacity for hoping,” says Kramer, who happens to be a social worker and musician by trade. “My carnival of hopes is busted and hideous and rusty and somehow still brave and sparkly”, she says, “like the image of the forgotten Ferris wheel we printed on the disc, half taken over by trees and time, but still standing.”
The record opens with the sassy “Half Way Gone”, which features a roots mixed with honky tonk sound. The narrator is lamenting about a relationship that’s going south as a result of her man not being totally invested in the relationship; instead he’s “half way gone”. The title track, “Carnival of Hopes”, is about letting things die and being honest about it. The song opens with the narrator singing to an ex-lover who left and is now happy with someone else. She explains, “Well this new love of yours grows living things from dirt/ I’ll bet she has tattoos on those sturdy arms of hers/ I can’t keep a houseplant alive and it ain’t no wonderin’ why/ you found some better arms than mine to call you home at night/ But I’ll lay down my hammer/ I will lay down my busted carnival of hopes/ Because well I ain’t getting’ any younger.” The melody is sweet and a bit upbeat, yet the mood of the song has a melancholic twinge to it.
Kramer’s favorite track on this record is the ballad, “Good Woman”, and I have to say, it’s definitely the standout on this record. According to Kramer, “‘Good Woman’ is the song you write when your lover kicks you out of the house and you’re half drunk on cheap box wine in a crappy motel room staring at yourself in the mirror under the fluorescent bathroom light, you can’t help but be honest then.” The song finds the narrator reflecting on the breakup of her relationship, talking to herself and her lover, all the while being brutally honest with herself. It’s filled with sorrow, desperation, and regret, even touching on the thought of committing suicide. It’s a tragically beautiful song, the ultimate breakup song. “Why’d I Do That Blues” meanwhile has a New Orleans Jazz infused sound, while “My Dusty Wings” is an upbeat, banjo-driven rollicking tune.
Carnival of Hopes is a wonderful folk record, one whose melodies are light-hearted and shows off the excellent musicianship featured on the record, and whose lyrics are deep, meaningful, and brutally honest. You’ll find fascinating stories/characters on this record, ones you’ll easily relate to. This is definitely a must-listen record.