Jan James honed her powerful vocals in a church choir, and learned guitar licks from a Tennessean named Catfish. She made her way from a family-run fishing resort in central Michigan to downtown Chicago to become one of The Windy City’s most enduring female artists. Her creative partnership with Craig Calvert is a decades-old exploration of roots music of all kinds – rock n’ roll, soul, country, and of course, the blues.
The path to Time Bomb, the newest record, took them from the Midwest to Europe, through the studios of notable producers, onto stages with the biggest names in music. And it all started in a small café near Michigan State University.
Jan and Craig were both students there. She was in a coffee shop duo, and he was in a punk band. Chemistry brought them together to form a blues-rock band that earned Jan “Best Female Vocalist” by the Detroit Metro Times. They moved to Chicago in the early 1990s, and leaned hard into the spotlight on the city’s vibrant music scene.
In addition to recording with Jim Peterik (Survivor) and Jim Dickinson, Jan and Craig secured a publishing deal with MCA. They became favorites in such venues as Buddy Guy’s Blues Legends and The House of Blues, performed at Grammy events and dozens of the city’s famed street festivals, and shared the stage with Koko Taylor, John Mayall, Little Feat, and James Brown. For the Harley-Davidson 100th Anniversary celebration, they were billed with Jeff Beck and BB King. Jan was asked to sing backup for Bruce Willis at the grand opening of the Planet Hollywood, and played Janis Joplin in Love, Janis.
Their first album, Last Train, was not just a critical success in the U.S.; it was picked up by the the Dutch label Provogue, which laid the foundation for Jan’s massive and ongoing European fan base. Twelve records followed through the years, all eliciting the raves such as “voices of the caliber of Jan James’ are rare in today’s pop music…” and “her upbeat rock/blues is exceptionally radio-friendly and very stylishly executed.”
Which brings us to Time Bomb, a record that encompasses, reflects, and then surpasses all of that history. In these 13 tracks, Jan and Craig enmesh universal themes with something more immediate and personal, making Time Bomb a mirror to the now.
“All of the songs from Time Bomb are inspired by the times we are living in. Writing these melodies and lyrics gives my soul comfort amidst this awful mess our society has created. “Desperate Times” speaks to this specifically. Tragic desperate episodes are happening everywhere, almost every day but we must find a way to move thru the emotions. If this song can help anybody get by, I will be grateful,” said Jan.
“Blood on Your Hands” was a response to the January 6th insurrection. “I am not usually interested in writing about political happenings, but it just came out so easily. Once I heard the piece of music that Craig had created, the lyrics wrote themselves. It makes me feel better every time I hear it.”
So even with the toughest of inspirations, the music leans toward hope and healing. Jan says, “The over-all message would be “happiness.” Find it, see it, feel it, grab it, hold it, give it – embrace and share all the love you can find.” There’s a lot of soul in Jan and Craig’s expression of happiness. Heavily influenced by Motown sounds, they “let them all live on this album.” This is especially evident on the bouncy “Swingin’ in the Sweet Sunshine” which opens the record with some delightful retro grooves.
“Always the Blues” is a perfect bookend to close the album. It is quintessential Jan and Craig songcraft, going back to the core of both their partnership and shared love of the blues. “Craig creates music beds of all shapes and sizes, and then I get to dig through them to find treasures. It’s a bit like magic for me. For this track, I was blown away by the guitar leads he recorded. It made me cry! It’s the perfect way to end this album.”
Jan James Discography
Jan James 1998. (Blue Palace)
Live at the Intersection. (Blue Palace)
Time Bomb 2023 (Blue Palace)