By Tanner Kent
The Free Press
MANKATO — Listening to Barbara Jean’s 2012 debut “The Great Escape” is a little like visiting the North Shore where she was born just outside Grand Marais:
You have to visit a few times to appreciate the full panorama.
Jean’s brand of North Country Americana arrives slowly and subtly, her disarmingly silken voice gaining strength with each sweet admission and vulnerable lament. On a second listen, her understated instrumental approach comes to the fore, highlighting the harmony between Jean’s vocals and the soothing restraint of her band. Further listens yield discoveries of Jean’s sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes affirming, always clever songwriting.
Then, a peek inside the liner notes proves Jean wrote and composed every note.
“Do not overlook her,” advised Larry Groce, host of National Public Radio’s Mountain Stage.
In her short career, Jean has already been named the 2011 Big Top Chautauqua Songwriting Champion and was an honorable mention in the 2012 Telluride Bluegrass Festival Troubadour contest. Earlier this year, she joined the Gravel Road Touring Showcase, an artist-run touring agency.
Growing up in a musical family, Jean plays the banjo, viola and violin — all of them on “The Great Escape.” Her album was produced by Bernie Larson, engineered by Tom Fabjance and recorded at Sacred Heart Recording Studio in Duluth.
Jean has previously performed with Trampled by Turtles, The Pines, Low, Jonathan Edwards, Martha Scanlon, Meg Hutchinson and Eilen Jewell.
She will be performing tonight with Dave Olson, himself a singer-songwriter whose 2011 release “No October” was well-received by critics.