June AOTM: J.S. Ondara – Tales Of America

I must admit, I fell across JS Ondara by a mistake. Well the internet said I should give him a go. It’s worth looking into the story how JS Ondara got to where he is today. In short he’s a guy from Kenya that fell in love with American music and decided to move to America to make what he loved from the country that the music continues to use as a muse. He moved to Minneapolis because that’s where Bob Dylan came from. A bit unexpected but it seems to have done the trick.

 

This name of this album is very apt. Not because he lives in America and he’s telling stories (though that is exactly what it is), but because in my opinion he’s a perfect example of a singer songwriter from North America that depicts the continent and what it offers. One that has taken so many influences from across the genres and cultures, boiled them in a pot, added some of himself and (ping) he’s done….. JS Ondara presents his Tales of America.

 

This album started off as a Sunday afternoon album I played whilst making lunch and moved to a go to for me the more I listen to it. I encourage you to take some time to dig into the lyrics. He covers allot. Love, life, and even social media. Peoples day to day struggles and victories. I get the Dylan influence. He’s a story teller. I like how there are hints of his accent; though the only track it really stands out on is his letter to his current home on ‘God Bless America’.

 

I’ll tell you why I like him and this album. It’s wholesome. It gives me what early Neil Young and Ryan Adams albums have. He’s got soul, his lyrics are solid and the boy can sing.

 

I had the pleasure of seeing him in Manchester in the spring. I highly encourage you to see him if you get a chance. He’s the real deal. I see him as a guy that will build a following through his live show.

 

America is (mostly) a country of immigrants. A country of a million stories. A million songs. Everything needs fresh eyes, and in this case a folksinger from Kenya that has taken a screen shot of the America he lives in. Is this album a classic? Perhaps not now. It may be one day. I’d say it’s a first chapter in what could be an interesting story.

 

4 comments

  1. misterstory

    Hi guys. Thanks for the album Nolan and for the write-up. I’ve been away starting a new job so only just got the CD but have been catching-up on Spotify. This check-in is a little early in my experience so in no way is this a final-review. My initial reaction is probably a little confused. I think this confusion comes from being so conscious of the ‘hand of the record company’ in this album – the question I ask myself when listening is ‘who is this aimed at’, what market-segment are they wanting to buy this? I don’t always feel like this and am usually far less conscious of the commercial side of the industry. I think the fact that I am conscious comes from (i) the fact that I am not sure if this is aimed at me (ii) I am not sure it has enough of what I want to change this.

    On paper, I was expecting to love this. It ticks a lot of boxes for me. But so far it hasn’t *popped* for me. Yet.

    On the positive side I really like his voice. It reminds me, in a good way of Tracey Chapman and for me, if that marketing segment exits, I’d be that the Spotify recommendation engine would definitely recommend this to people who listen to Tracey Chapman. He writes lyrics in quite a poetic manner … but I am not always sure I understand the emotions.

    I am sure this will unravel and reveal more and I may assist this by reading some interviews with him to learn a little more as a way to unlock some of the tracks. I will write more when I have more to share and is less wooly than the above!

    Joseph.

  2. whyohwhyohwhy

    Morning all. Late, as ever. But here we are.

    A little like brother Joseph, I get all the ingredients here, and while I’m not really a Dylan fan, I do like Neil Young, but first impressions count for a lot and mine as an odd one: I kept hearing Tracy Chapman. This is not a bad thing, but perhaps not what you want when needing to discover the rich textures of an immigrant’s journey into middle America.

    There’s a lot to like about Tales Of America. And I’ve listened to it half a dozen times now, but it didn’t lure me in at the start as I’d hope it would, and while it’s aa pleasurable listening experience, I’m not sure it will. However, it’ll stay on the phone, which not every AOTM manages.

    I wonder if my issues sometimes are quality of listening as much as time. As you all have been through, free time is at a premium. If I’m listening to music it’s on my commute, while I’m walking, shopping, cooking…. There’s very little time for “pure” listening experiences, and even then it’s competing for time with podcasts and books. Such is life, for now. I don’t really get to immerse myself into albums like I used to, or at least as many. And as I don’t drive the car in the week, that’s also not an option.

    But this is nice. A good shout, Nolan.

  3. David Allison

    So. The biggest gap I’ve ever had on the blog, and I couldn’t be more sorry. Broke ankle, moved house, that kind of thing. Anyway, I’m back back back.

    So I’ve actually been listening to this a reasonable amount. It is VERY nice. I think that’s probably the word: nice. But…but…but when I read his life story, and his incredible tale of coming to the States from Kenya desperate to make rock n roll, I was expecting a much more radical record – more of a mash-up. Whereas this feels SO faithful, that I sometimes wonder if his personality is missing – and that, bearing in mind his story, seems kind of odd.

    Joey’s right that Tracy Chapman is an obvious comparison. Also Joan Armatrading. That is to say, it’s very tasteful and quite often very lovely. But I keep hoping it’ll do something it just doesn’t do.

    Perhaps he’ll go on to make bolder choice. He’s obviously very talented, and he has a really lovely voice. But for now, for me, this is merely nice. And that’s nice enough, but it may not linger…

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