So how exactly does a Vancouver native and song-writing prodigy arrive in leafy Oxford via Canada, Papua New Guinea and Nashville?
Miriam—born in Vancouver the year her parents emigrated from Atlanta—then lived in Calgary, Alberta until she was seven. Even at this early age, Miriam was smitten by English accents and her strongest and most contented memories are of visits to the public library where she was often found listening to the soundtrack of the 1968 "Oliver!" film drama. Over the years Miriam kept her passion for musical theatre and rather than being a traditional music fan flitting from new trend to new trend and building a formidable record collection, she tended to latch on to just a handful of songs or albums, and then spend the next few years listening to nothing else. Outbursts of Come What May from "Moulin Rouge" were frequent, embarrassing and took years to subside.
Miriam recalls: “I was eight years old when I wrote my first song, at the time devoted to a pair of "Stars of the Sixties" tapes belonging to my folks (The Monkeys, Donovan, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap). My mom, who grew up in Nashville and is very musical herself, had various cassettes around from the home of Country music. My family spent a good deal of time there on visits to my Grandparents, as well as three years living in Papua New Guinea where my Dad was teaching at a theological college on a rural campus in the highlands. That's where I was—up a tree, in fact—when I started to write, and where I first knew that I wanted to make records.”
Geography, people, cultures and traveling have influenced Miriam as a songwriter. Her time in Papua New Guinea was both beautiful and at times frightening, wonder and solitude always at the ready, and the intense soulfulness of the people moved her. At the age of 11 her parents brought her back to Canada along with her two sisters and her brother where they settled in a small mountain town in the British Columbia interior, the place she calls home. Miriam learnt the drums for 5 years and won a regional song-writing contest in her teens. She used the prize money to purchase her first guitar and toured with a small vocal jazz ensemble.
Some years and many miles later Miriam eventually found herself back in Nashville making a record with Grammy award winning producer Charlie Peacock at the controls. Some might say that Jones’ vocal lilt lends itself naturally to the music of the Grand Ole Opry but the resulting album, Being Here (2008), was anything but a cookie-cutter Country record, the mixture of Folk-Pop stylings and classic songwriting redolent of the greats of early 70’s southern California with its intimate, soulful, unvarnished performance.
“I spent two weeks with Charlie at his home studio" Miriam remembers, "and wrote three songs in two days because he asked if I could; it was the first time I'd felt really challenged as a writer, and I got so high off of it. The studio continues to be my favorite context to work in". Even the legendary writer J.D. Souther stopped by, complimenting Miriam on her guitar playing.
Miriam's follow up album Fire-Lives, self-released in late 2010, was a home-recorded mini-masterpiece (home now being in Oxford with her English husband), which offered a sound that is at times the work of a burgeoning Folk & Roots Joe Meek. Whip smart songs, endless layers of guitars, horns, pianos, drums and voices combined with the unusual acoustic of the house itself to produce a powerful record that snakes into the listener’s consciousness like Springsteen trying to make Born To Run in his kitchenette rather than the Record Plant.
As with Being Here the local media, this time in Oxford rather than British Columbia, picked up on the album immediately, and the need to take it on the road resulted in the record's musicians pulling together to form a committed band—Miriam Jones & the Red Sea. No sooner was the new band in place than BBC Oxford offered them a slot second on the bill at the Cornbury Festival. This was followed by an engagement, since oft renewed, to appear at the Greenbelt Festival.
This period also begat two singles including a quick trip to Abbey Road that produced a fresh mix of the Fire-Lives track Words Away, complete with baritone saxes and glistening bells, which became the catalyst for the first national play on the BBC for Jones’ music, bringing her to the attention of broadcasters, critics and listeners across the country.
With the early success of Words Away and the applause of the summer’s festival audiences still ringing in her ears, Miriam went back to revisit Routine Runaway, a concert favourite and another highlight of the Fire-Lives album. Once again, Jones took the song apart and rebuilt it from the ground up, taking the organic home studio live recording and turning it into another feat of low budget production ingenuity and yet more airplay.
What then followed was less a quick follow-up to cash in on the media attention than a long period committed to writing and rewriting a collection of contenders for what would inevitably be an important release in Miriam's fledgling career. Armed with more than a baker's dozen of poignant short stories in song form there followed a long search for the perfect producer to bring those narratives to life. That search finally bore fruit in 2014 with the forming of a creative partnership with Simon Edwards (Fairground Attraction, Billy Bragg etc) who as well as producing the new songs became the first member of her new band. The resulting new album contains ten, four minute tales, featuring characters that could have leaped straight from the pages of Anne Tyler or Raymond Carver, delivered with a grit and a warmth that puts Jones firmly in the Bonnie Raitt and Joan Osborne class of tough but soulful exponents of North American roots music.
Between Green and Gone is released in February 2015.