Andrea Ramolo-Not your Janis Joplin clone

Cover, April 15, 2011

Story:Lenny Stoute

Barrelling along the 401, having blown away Montreal the night before and on the way to do it again in Ottawa, is the perfect way to meet Andrea Ramolo. The fast-rising singer plays better than 200 shows a year all across our fair land, earning her the tag  “tireless road warrior”

The current 26-city jaunt is in support of second album 'The Shadows and the Cracks', which marks something of a departure for Ramolo. The Toronto native broke on the scene with 2008’s ‘Thank You For The Ride’ a sunny-sided collection of folk confections laden with lyrical narrative and introducing us to Ramolo’s rich and supple pipes.

It scored her widespread attention, opened the door to a better level of opening slots, won Best Folk album awards and guest speaker spot at the 2009 Ontario Council of Folk Festivals Conference in Ottawa on how to book your own tour as an indie artist.

“ The first album was totally my baby. It was an outpouring of songs, very organic. A lot of it was live off the floor, recorded in spontaneous bursts and produced by my then-boyfriend. It all worked out and it got me started off.”

Backed by one-man band Jason Skiendziel (upright/electric basses, mandolin, percussion), Ramolo took her show on roads as far away as the Southern U.S, playing the gigs, penning the tunes.

Two and a half years of that and she’s back with The Shadows And The Cracks, a more complex proposition, as is often the case with bridging albums. The bridging thing comes up as it has a number of tunes, such as ‘Oh Brother’ and “Whole Life Running” which are a hardass departure from the material on the debut album, casting suspicion Ramolo will be heading further in that direction. Given that she works a hot line in dark eyed sultry smoulder, it’d look good on her.

“ This one is more of a studio album. The songs are more crafted, it’s more sophisticated. That comes from the material itself and working with a high-level producer (Tim Thorney). It’s more accessible, more radio friendly, more variety on it. I point that out because while the rock tunes are getting a lot of attention and that’s great, there are also slower, more intimate tunes. But it’s all me, it’s all my songs”.

Collectively, the tunes on ‘The Cracks…’ offer a portrait of an artist in transition, somewhere between the sunny summer Sunday of the first album and the Friday night swagger of the current cookie. With this one, Ramolo’s dealing from a deck stacked with dark shadows and forceful intent; getting across those kinds of things is best done by rocking it out. Which is why she’s van-bound with three guys, making her first ever ‘national’ band tour augmented by guitarist Sean Pinchin and drummer Josh Turnbull.

“ There are the songs where I totally get to let it out and it’s great to have the band with me for that. But there are also some really beautiful moments of intimacy and instrumentation”.

At this stage, talking to Andrea Ramolo there’s no getting around the 500 llb pink gorilla in the room named Janis Joplin. Marketing departments love a niche to exploit and thanks to Joplin’s wackjob bible thumping family who refuse all offers to work the franchise, the Hard Rockin’ Edge City Hot White Blues Babe niche is wide open for business and ready to ooze money.

Round here it’d be easy for the twentysomething Ramolo to assume the spangled mantle of the legendary Joplin. But that would be selling Ramolo’s ambition short. And Andrea ain’t ready to go like that.

“ Sure Janice is an influence but I also have a lot of respect for other writers especially Ani Di Franco and Lucinda Williams. When I was younger I had a Janis obsessed period but now that’s just another style I can do” she laughs, hinting it might be a carryover from her karaoke gig days.

“ I’m good with the Janice comparisons but I’m a lot more eclectic. I don’t want to be in any kind of pigeonhole. I want to get respect for my own voice. Lyrics are very important to me; I was writing poetry before I was writing songs. I was the kind of kid who was writing and putting on plays with my friends in Grade 1. So yeah, a lot goes into the song writing”.

Back on the van, the mood’s all revived optimism as the band looks forward to the Western leg of the tour.

“ The timing wasn’t the best for introducing the rock material out East, as most of the colleges were just going into exam mode, so the kids weren’t in the bars rocking. We’re looking forward to the Western leg, as the situation will be the opposite. They’ll have just finished their exams and be in a mood to have some beer and rock out”

And the album totally has the punchy guitar lines and vocal hooks so conducive to getting one’s drink on.

“ As it is, the tour is going well; the new, more rocking material is being well received by the core fans, who’re used to the more intimate, solo approach. That’s good to see; it energizes me”.

This weekend Andrea Ramolo and band play The Black Pirates Pub in Thunder Bay Friday(Apr.15) and Kenora’s The Cornerstone Saturday(Apr.16)

For a full list of tour dates check