Winnipeg-based singer Jess Reimer is thrilled to be featuring tunes from her latest CD, The Nightjar and The Garden, at Fratters on April 8th.
It’s hardly a surprise that Reimer attracted the attention of Blue Rodeo founding member Bob Wiseman, who produced The Nightjar and The Garden.
She couldn’t have teamed up with a better guy for the project.
“We took over a year to do it,” she explains, and she couldn’t be happier with the results. The disc was released last fall.
“I thoroughly enjoyed working with him – it was exciting and also really relaxed. He also put unprecedented amounts of time into this, in terms of playing on a lot of the tracks and getting other people involved as well. A lot of the pre-recording we did took a lot of time too.”
They had met at a festival a few years back, and Wiseman was on the lookout for projects at the time.
“He also got a kick out the traditional end of how I’ve been making music so far – I think that was interesting to him. Really, I didn’t know what to expect. I looked him up on Youtube because I didn’t know his music and I thought wow – this is completely different than anything I’ve ever done. I had no idea how we would combine our styles, but I thought it would be an interesting experiment, and I turned out to really love it.
“I’m so glad our styles meshed as well as they did.”
Wiseman’s fondness of vintage sounds and a live approach in the studio emphasizes Reimer’s vocals, as well as the range of emotions in her songwriting.
As Reimer explains about one of the album’s most affecting songs, Whippoorwill, “A nightjar is a family of birds the whippoorwill belongs to.”
The whippoorwill is known as an omen of death or hardship and sings at dusk.
“It is supposed to steal souls before they have a chance to move on to the afterlife. I like to believe that’s why Hank Williams and other country artists sang about it.”
Reimer’s gift for music was discovered early on.
She was born in a northern Manitoba mining town on the Burntwood River. And as her grandmother loved to say, from the moment Reimer could speak, she would make up songs about what she’d seen and done that day.
Her family later moved to Winkler, south of Winnipeg, where her path toward becoming a singer/songwriter became clear by her teen years, with encouragement from her father, an English literature professor and bluegrass fanatic. She also loved singing with her father.
“We made a cassette tape in 1997,” Jess remembers.
“It was all traditional covers recorded on our front porch, called Bring It On Home. The two of us played a bunch of festivals that one summer, and it was a lot of fun.”
Being an English professor, her father of course has a passion for language.
“Of course, he had very literary leanings and always had hundred of books in the house,” she recalls. “He’s poetic, yet unconventionally poetic – he has a lot of fun with language.
“That was, I think, really influential in my love for words and the feeling to be able to express myself,” she said. “I appreciate how he combined more of a poetic and exciting use of language into a really basic style of music.”
They eventually expanded to a full band after Jess met her future husband Jer Hamm, a multi-instrumentalist and instrument builder, and banjo player Tim Osmond.
They recorded a couple of CDs, but by 2010 Jess was ready to go out on her own.
Meanwhile, she continues to sing the praises of Wiseman and what he brought to the project.
“I sent him pretty much every song I had, and he responded to the ones that stimulated his interest.
“Almost every suggestion he made was something I would have never thought of, but liked. I really learned a lot making this record, greatly due to Bob.”
She describes The Nightjar and The Garden as her first successful attempt to work out through songwriting some of her most daunting life experiences, dating back to her teenage years.
“I didn’t plan on this being such a personal record, but listening to it now I can hear that common thread,” she says. “I guess the great lesson from all of this was learning how to trust my instincts.”