Ida Jo is one inspired person, releasing three solo recordings in as many years as well as being a member of Bello, who released their fine debut earlier this year. Additionally she’s the director of Midnight Voices, an all-female high school a capella group who wowed the audience at the 2011 Madison Area Music Awards and who also released a CD this year with all arrangements, direction and layout by Ida Jo. It’s the association with Midnight Voices that seems to have informed Uncharted to a great degree. Of course, her association with mega-talent Scott Lamps remains in force with Lamps providing bass, piano, banjo and assorted percussion in addition to his impressive production.
Lamps has a knack for getting the most out of less and Uncharted uses the sparest of accompaniments. Most notable is the lack of any drums per se. Instead they use stomps-and-claps along with Ida Jo’s noted chopping technique on the violin. These accoutrements, along with Ida Jo’s increasing soulful vocal style imbue Uncharted with a traditional sensibility, as if these songs originated sometime in history somewhere in the Deep South.
The songs themselves are the simplest of constructs; there is not a bridge on any of the album’s twelve cuts. Another notable aspect is the lack of multi-tracking on the vocals. Only “Goodbye,” perhaps the most complex track on the record employs vocal harmonization, a distinct departure from the choral group references that seem to be informing the songs. The syncopation of the vocal melody and 9/8 time signature forges new territory for Ida Jo. She also uses spoken word to great effect, particularly on “A Right” which segues into the title track, using looping violin to great effect – an exciting technique that may indicate the direction she takes her music in the future.
Another spoken bit, “Loan” opens the record impressively, leading into “Who You Are,” the album’s standout track that demonstrates Ida Jo’s pop sensibilities and uniquely personal delivery. “Machine” puts the spotlight on the lyrics, which resonate more deeply on Uncharted. “I don’t know if I still understand / How they get a machine from a man,” she intones, reflecting on the changes of personality of a soldier returning from service and concluding that “I should have known when he crossed that sea / He’d never again be a man to me.” The track is so somber and haunting it plays like a traditional tune from the darker days of history.
Madison has been fortunate to have strong female artists in its midst but I don’t believe there’s ever been a more powerful female force in Madison music than right now. Ida Jo is among those who are gracing the city with her presence and we would all do well to grace these fine performers with ours. These days, and these recordings, should be cherished.