Take You With Me may be the debut album from singer/songwriter Jasmine Netsena, but the resident of Fort Nelson, BC, is far from a musical novice. Rather than rushing into a first record, she chose to steadily sharpen her vocal, compositional and performance skills. In recent years, she has charmed audiences in Nashville, Texas, New York City, and across Canada, before finally deciding to commit her songs to disc. That did take a little push, Jasmine laughingly concedes. "All my musical mentors here in the North finally told me, 'yes, you're ready. Take the plunge and go for it.'"
We can be glad she did. All Netsena's patience and hard work have paid off with a truly compelling album, one that signals the arrival of a major young talent. This is a record written and recorded in the Great White North, but it's stylistic heart resides in the American South. Netsena grew up surrounded by the sounds of country, folk and blues, and she seamlessly incorporates these styles into her own music. The stories in these evocative songs, though, are deeply personal and strongly rooted in her homeland.
The ever-patient Netsena wasn't about make the record in haste. She travelled to Whitehorse for two extended sessions in late 2013 with noted producer Bob Hamilton. His work with acclaimed singer/songwriters Kim Beggs and Indio Saravanja had caught Jasmine's ear, so the pair settled into Hamilton's Old Crow Recording studio, along with an A-list cast of players that included Marie Gogo, Annie Avery, Leela Gilday, Robert Bergman, Ed White and Katie Avery.
The nine original songs on the record are those Jasmine considered the strongest compositions from her last eight years of writing. Lyrically, they cover a wide swathe of territory. The poignant and personal title track employs organ and backing vocals to add emotional resonance to the story of a mother forced to leave her children. "A writer friend of mine suggested naming the album after the song most personal to me, and that was 'Take You With Me,'" Netsena explains. Equally autobiographical is "Dreamed Of You," a song in which such lines as "I turned 23 in Harlem, now I'm 24 in the NWT" are punctuated by swirling organ and jangling guitar.
Pedal steel and harmony vocals from Gogo give depth to "Rearview," dobro is prominent on the sparse ballad "Lie To Myself," while "Sweet Companion" shows Jasmine can be equally convincing on a slow blues number. Adding levity to the textures of the album is the up-tempo "Bad Cook," a tragic tale of culinary ineptitude.
Netsena's natural eclecticism is reflected in her choice of the two cover songs on the record. Written by Carlene Carter and Susanna Clark, the classic country-folk tune "Easy From Now On" is best known via Emmylou Harris' version. "Emmylou is definitely one of my favourite artists," Jasmine says, and she does the song (and Emmy) real justice. "Nothing In Rambling" is an old Mississippi blues tune co-written and made famous by the legendary Memphis Minnie, and the passion and purity in Jasmine's version brings Maria Muldaur to mind.
Music was a big part of Netsena's life growing up in B.C.."My First Nation heritage is Dene and Tahltan, and my grandmas would sing to me a lot, in their first language," she recalls. "Those were mostly drum-based songs. My mum is a huge music fan, and I grew up to a lot of country and folk music, from George Jones to Neil Young and Bob Dylan."
Jasmine's singing talent was evident from an early age. As a teenager in Vancouver, she had vocal training in the classical and opera fields, and she continued studies at The Royal Conservatory in Toronto and Ottawa while attending (respectively) Seneca College and Algonquin College. This training shows in the controlled power of her voice, yet it is an instrument that retains a very unforced and organic sensibility.
After teaching herself guitar, Netsena's focus then turned to writing and performing original roots-oriented songs. A year spent living in Manhattan proved a creative turning point, she explains. "One of my best friends there was a stand-up comic who ran an open mic night. I'd been too shy to get up and sing, but she forced me into it and that got me over my stage fright. I started playing every open mic night I could find, four or five times a week, and then I'd write songs on the weekend."
With her self-confidence boosted, Jasmine then began making a mark in both the media and music fields back in the Canadian North. She worked as a radio announcer at stations in Yellowknife and Whitehorse, and then for APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network), on the series "Our Dene Elders." The Truth and Reconciliation Commission recruited her as a story collector, interviewing first nations survivors of residential schools, and she participated in other research and video projects. Since 2011, Jasmine has been working with the Lands Department in the North as a field technician, tracking numbers of animals potentially impacted by oil and gas development. These rich life and work experiences have inevitably had a real impact on her as a songwriter, one whose heartfelt narratives deal with such emotional themes as family, separation, love and loss, joy and sadness.
Netsena continued to perform at various clubs and festivals in the North, and in 2009 she showcased at Aboriginal Music Week in Winnipeg. The following year, she was featured on the APTN show Rising Stars, a tag she is certainly now living up to. In 2011, she headlined a concert at the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre (NACC) in Yellowknife, part of the centre's annual Northern Performer Series. In 2012, she performed at the Grand Ole Northern Opry, with Grammy Award winner Laurie Lewis as headliner, at the Yukon Arts Centre in Whitehorse.
Along the way, Jasmine has become a valued member of the tight-knit roots music community in the North. She acknowledges such peers as Kim Barlow (a song they co-wrote, "Winter Fuel," is on the album), Indio Saravanja, and Kim Beggs as real mentors, noting "there is no way I could have made this first record alone. I was very honest about what I needed, and they all been so very open and helpful."
With Take You With Me set for release on April 22, her performance schedule is heating up. On May 14, she and fellow songstress Ann Vriend will share a joint album launch at Vancouver's roots music mecca, The Railway Club. Jasmine will then play shows in Alberta, while Ontario dates are expected in the fall.
2014 is shaping up as a banner year for Jasmine Netsena, thanks to this vibrant and richly rewarding album. It is indeed one you will want to take with you.
Take You With Me
"Rearview" from Take You With Me
"Lie To Myself" from Take You With Me