Writer: Becky Roberts
The debut album for Judi Jaeger and Bob Reid, From Way Up Here, is a lot of things, but most notably, it’s an album from two very accomplished musicians wonderfully recorded, mixed and mastered by Cookie Marenco at Blue Coast Music (formerly OTR Studios).
If you haven’t heard of Jaeger & Reid, hopefully, you will get to know them, or at least know their music. They were children of the 60s who grew up in musical families, Jaeger in Canada and Reid in the San Francisco Bay area. In fact, you could say that music is the family business for both of them. Jaeger’s mother played and sang folk music, and her brother played guitar and taught her to play. She remembers listening to Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Barbara Streisand and Gordon Lightfoot in particular. “I’ve always been influenced by the power that music can have on you, letting you express deep emotions,” Jaeger says.
Reid’s dad was a gospel music promoter, so he grew up around a lot of musicians and singers and had the benefit of learning about the music business from the inside. His mother was a performer, and the title track, “From Way Up Here,” was chosen as a tribute to his musical heritage. The song was written by Malvina Reynolds and set to music by Pete Seeger. Reid’s mom, Betty Reid Soskin, played concerts with Malvina in the 60s, and Reid roomed with Seeger at one point.
About the Album
This album is labeled Folk/Americana with a modern twist, but Jaeger and Reid say that what they do is bridge acoustic music in a folk style. Reid says Pete Seeger, who popularized the term ‘folk music’, always regretted that this label caught on as he didn’t think it was really clear because all music is ‘folk’ to some extent.
Reid backs Jaeger’s rich voice on most songs on the album, although he has a couple where he takes the lead. The “special sauce” with this album however is the quality of the recording that lets every note of their superb acoustic harmonies shine with a mix of original ballads and familiar standards like Bob Dylan’s “The Times They are a-Changin’,” “Lay Me Down Easy” by Kate Wolf, “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell, and “Imagine” by John Lennon/Yoko Ono.
If you are familiar with Tuck & Patti, Jaeger and Reid may remind you a little of their music, but just a little. I thought Jaeger’s voice singing “The Times They Are a-Changin’” took me right back to the late 60s with the passion and protest that marked that era. And, her rendition of “Both Sides Now” was remarkably beautiful and well suited to her vocal range.
There are six songs on the album that were written by either Jaeger or Reid, and they come straight from their life experiences, as most good songs do. My favorite, “Greedy Crime,” was the first song Jaeger ever wrote, and the lyrics and her voice tell of her pain from her mother’s early death from dementia. Reid’s “From the Heart” on the other hand is a celebration of life reminding us that, “Life is a song to be sung from the heart.” They say their focus for the album was to include songs with meaningful messages, and they accomplished this goal without a doubt.
I don’t know about you, but I am in awe of multi-talented artists like Jaeger and Reid who not only write songs but also sing and play multiple instruments. On this album, Jaeger plays the guitar, ukulele and high strung guitar, and Reid plays the guitar, harmonica, accordion, and electric bass. Other musicians on the album include Bob Burnett, mandolin and guitar; Jeff Crossley, acoustic bass; Michelle Kwon, cello; Janni Littlepage, piano; Ronny Crawford, drums and percussion; and Michael Capella, dobro and Weissenboom.
About the Recording
Recorded by five-time Grammy-nominated producer Cookie Marenco, the album was recorded in DSD (Direct Stream Digital, a high-resolution format), and to 2” analog tape. If you know Marenco and Blue Coast Music, you immediately know that the quality of the recording is top-notch.
For this review, I listened to the album on my computer using small Audience desktop speakers, but for those of you who have a high-end digital or CD system, I think you’ll find that the recording is stunningly quiet and free of extraneous background noise. We have often attended performances at venues like Yoshi’s in Oakland or Feinstein’s in San Francisco where the performers are backed by a small group of around five musicians playing various instruments. The soundstage for this album reminds me of this type of venue, and when I close my eyes and listen, I can visualize where the musicians are placed.
Where to Get the Album
The album is available from CD Baby and in various download formats from Blue Coast Music. You can also find out more about this duo on their website, Jaeger&Reid.com which includes the lyrics and background information for each song on the album plus information on where to see them live. They are planning a tour in Oregon in June, so if you live there or want to go to Oregon, look them up. If you live in the Bay area, they also do house concerts where for donations, you can book them for an evening and ask your friends and neighbors over for a potluck dinner and a concert. This is an idea I hadn’t heard of before and would like to try out!
In summary, Jaeger says, “It’s our harmony that makes people say wow when they hear us.” Give From Way Up Here a listen and see if you agree.