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Singer/songwriter Jolly is Tar Heel rising star

By Robert Kelly - Goss

The Daily Advance

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Jeanne Jolly is busy running from one appointment to the next. As a North Carolina singer/songwriter, her schedule is overrun with concerts, recording dates and even interviews.

Jolly stopped long enough to talk on the phone, but it was obvious she was on the move. Among other things, she’s preparing for her fourth show here in Elizabeth City, Jan. 12 at Museum of the Albemarle.

“We’re going to play all of the songs off of 'Angels,’” Jolly said, referring to her latest CD.

“Angels” is a compilation of original songs that dig deep into the roots of folk and Americana music. The music, the lyrics and Jolly’s unmistakable signature

voice places the 33-year-old in a category with the likes of Emmylou Harris or Mary Chapin Carpenter —two performers she recently played with on the road.

But that’s not how the

Raleigh-area native got her start.

Jeanne Jolly began her career as a singer, performing opera in a high soprano voice. She studied classically at the New England Conservatory. She was serious about her future in opera.

“That was my path,” said Jolly. “I was auditioning in New York every season and having dreams of performing opera.”

But Jolly was already establishing herself as an independent artist, even if she didn’t realize it at the time. She says she began to grow particular about the operas she would perform, and when you’re an unknown, that doesn’t bode well for a future in a highly competitive field.

“It demands every part of your being. ... I just didn’t have it in me.”

But her experience studying and performing opera did stay with her. That’s evident when she performs songs such as “Angels on Hayworth Street.” She carries her notes clearly, with strength while landing softly on syllables that accentuate the meaning behind what she says might be best described as folk ballads.

Folk ballads tell stories and Jolly’s album “Angels” is full of stories. They are stories that are a culmination of years living in Hollywood that would lead up to a big loss in her life, her mom.

The Hollywood years began back in 2004. She had wanted to get into music for film and television so she moved to Southern California.

First she moved to Studio City, a part of Los Angeles where Universal and Warner Brothers Studios reside. She eventually moved over the hill into Hollywood where she would hook up with Grammy Award winning jazz trumpeter Chris Botti.

Jolly toured with Botti singing jazz tunes for a year and a half. But when that gig ended, well she did what any struggling artist might do; she got a job waiting tables on Sunset Boulevard. That’s when things would begin to turn musically for Jolly.  

She was going through what she described as a bad breakup and was moving into her own apartment, away from her boyfriend. One night at work she managed to make $250 in tips. She quickly took that money and bought classic country albums — artists like Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and George Jones.

“I dug in and listened to it for days,” recalled Jolly, “while I unpacked and wept.”

So while Jolly was living in Hollywood, she found what she describes as her “country, folkish, Americana voice.”

And then her world would come crashing down around her. Her mother would be diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer.

Jolly would stay on the phone with her mother day after day. But what she really wanted was to return home to be with the woman that she loved and admired.

“She called me and told me it was (cancer) and I had a horrible time but I decided right then and there I would go back home,” said Jolly.

Jolly’s brother flew to California and helped her pack and move across the country, back home to Raleigh. Her mother would die four months after being diagnosed with cancer. The impact on Jolly’s life and career has been unmistakable. Losing her mother not only brought Jolly back home, but it also deepened the soulfulness of her songwriting, and that’s apparent on “Angels.”

For the most part “Angels” reveals the strong folk/country roots that Jolly says she grew up around in North Carolina. But her experience singing with Chris Botti’s jazz band comes through in a soft, but soaring ballad, “Sweet Love.”

In “Sweet Love,” Jolly draws from her jazz influence, using a bossa nova rhythm to advance what would otherwise be a folk/country ballad. And perhaps just as interesting is the use of the pedal steel in this composition of the piece.

Allyn Love plays the pedal steel on the album and with Jolly’s band. Love’s subtle chords in “Sweet Love,” illustrates an innovation in sound that breaks genres, and that’s OK with Jolly.

“I’ve always had a hard time with genres and boxes,” said Jolly. “I consider myself a fledgling songwriter, ... but as far as coming out publicly and sharing my music, I think if I hear something like a certain sound, it’s more like the texture of the sound I’m going for and whatever instrument works with that.”

Jolly plays the baritone ukulele – it’s looks like a small, four-string guitar — and the six-string guitar. In her band, lifelong friend Chris Boerner plays guitar — he and Jolly have been friends since kindergarten and he produced her latest album — Nick Baglio plays drums, Allyn Love plays the pedal steel and E. Scott Warren plays bass.

Jolly and her band will perform Saturday, Jan. 12 at Museum of the Albemarle’s Gaither Auditorium. The show opens with a warm up band comprised of members of the Sutter’s Gold Streak Band, The Five Star Band and Out 'n the Cold.  They’ll warm up the room with a 40-minute set that concentrates on Eagles covers, according to concert organizer and musician Clarence Munden.

Jolly will perform at 8 p.m. For tickets or more information, contact Museum of the Albemarle at 252-335-1453. To get a taste of Jolly’s music, go to