“I love domestic arts, though I do them haphazardly,” said Kate Jacobs, in the course of explaining her songwriting process. This is relevant because “I’ve come to think of writing and recording songs sort of like I do gardening, knitting, quilting, embroidering,” she said. “Cooking. Painting.”
She added that writing is “just making things. Interests and inspirations coming and going.”
If you live in Hoboken and you love music and storytelling, you probably know Kate Jacobs — as a performer, writer, neighbor or co-owner of Hoboken’s Little City Books store, where she is surrounded by stories about children, adult longings and loss, and interesting characters. Her music has the same vibrant tales as the books piled up on Little City’s walls, but hers are set to beautiful, warm tunes with piano, guitars and rhythms that don’t dominate, but subtly support her storytelling.
This is an album that made me want to stop the noise in my life and find a comfy chair and cup of tea, so I could listen closely.
If you don’t know her delicate melodies and funny, wise tales, you have an opportunity to see her perform at her record release show for her new album, Second Day Cake, Jan. 11 at 8 p.m. at Little City Books (visit littlecitybooks.com). She will be joined by guitarist Dave Schramm, drummer Paul Moschella and bassist James MacMillan along with her talented son, Edward Horan, on keyboards, and singer Jenny Mynard, a Hudson School senior.
The album marks a moment that matters for Jacobs — her 60th birthday — and serves as a birthday gift to herself, one that enables her to “record her life.” Though the songs are not as autobiographical as some material from prior albums, they reflect her memories of people she has known, or places she has been.
Born in Northern Virginia and raised in Vienna, Austria, Jacobs attended Oberlin College in Ohio and then moved on to New York to dance in the early ’80s. Her passion for telling stories inspired her to become a profoundly good songwriter; she started recording in the 1990s, creating five albums over the years, with the last one in 2011.
Her sixth album, Second Day Cake, was worth the wait.
“At the last minute, I decided to make a record for my 60th birthday,” she said, adding that “I pulled tracks from different places and it’s been a wonderful time, engaging all kinds of people — familiar colleagues and brand new collaborators, including my son Edward Horan and my niece Kat Imperial, who did the painting and package design.”
And the date of her record release (Jan. 11) is actually her birthday! “I’d love to press some vinyl just for the cover painting. It’s so plus ça change — looks intensely like my kitchen in the ’80s, down to the cat. It’s so perfect for this album, which includes some ’80s nostalgia concentrate.
“A lot of these songs were written for Radio Free Song Club, an online show produced by me and Dave Schramm with the incomparable Nicholas Hill as host. We had a great run of 32 shows with Nicholas and an astounding collection of writers and musicians.
Jacobs explained that Hill had a stroke a few years ago “that slowed him down, but Dave and I have a plan for something in the future.” She hopes to organize a reunion show and the release of one show that has not yet been posted.
One of the album’s tracks, “Slacker Mom Summer Song” tells the story of the tension parents often feel about children’s increased needs when (as Alice Cooper famously sang) “school’s out for summer.” If you work from home or are the primary caretaker of young kids, there’s an anticipatory and momentary dread you feel when you need to develop a summer plan that is going to keep your people nourished, entertained and never, ever bored.
Jacobs, who spent the summers abroad with her kids, remembers her childhood in Northern Virginia in this song — spending the day at the pool until the sunset, then coming home in the dark, smelling of chlorine and candy. While this song focuses on a place in the past, she admitted that there’s a universal change every summer when parents have less free time and, as the character cries in the song, “no more reading novels in the coffee shop, no more daytime movies with my new best friends … summer’s coming and the kids are getting out of school/Summer’s coming and I gotta think/No more Monday mornings with my shrink … gotta be somebody with a plan instead.”
The upbeat music has a Beach Boys-like quality to it, and the song ends on a humorous note of relief when the mom finds a compromise between managing her kids and maintaining her sanity by finishing her novels poolside.
Jacobs discussed her experience recording four of her songs with Gavin Glass at Orphan Recording in “the Dublin mountain foothills with cows.” She called it a “crumbly wonderful place,” adding that “I spend summers in the West of Ireland and in 2017, on a lark, booked a few days with Gavin and again in 2018. I put the songs in his hands and Edward played various keys and synths and helped arrange and produce, and my other son Thomas hung out in the studio sharpening his producer ears. Gavin’s worked with loads of people and we’ve had a great time with him and engineer/drummer Peter Ashmore.”
“Every Single Time (I Think of You),” produced at Orphan Recording, carries with it very sage advice for the younger generation to show love and affection for loved ones before they are gone. It has a sweet sound and includes a regretful, repeated line, “every single time, every single time I think of you, I wanna go back in time and do the right thing, every single time.”
“St. Marks Bar, 1984,” a beautiful song also produced at Orphan Recording, features Horan playing keyboards and chimes. This is a bittersweet tale about a woman and her old friend “John,” whom she hasn’t seen in a very long time.
“John, I’ve loved you so long … wherever you are, I’m in St. Marks Bar waiting for you,” Jacob sings. The woman in this song is still wearing her friend’s high school “shirt with all the birds” the way best friends do, and had “the perfect future planned” for him. But things worked out differently. She remembers them talking all night and waits for him to return to a bar in the East Village to continue the conversation, despite the years spent apart.
Jacobs shared with me that this song takes place in the ’80s, when transgender issues were not fully acknowledged or discussed. By the end of the song, we learn that John is now a woman and the song’s narrator is waiting to pick up where the friendship was left so long ago, but with an understanding that life has changed. This song is so intimate and direct that I feel like I’m eavesdropping on a private moment.
Jacobs gets jazzy on three beautiful tracks, including “Bad Day,” about a mother’s post-bus pickup conversation with her child, who had an unsettling day, complete with a school fight. The mom in this song had an equally bad day and struggles to offer counsel while ruminating privately. Jacobs noted that “my biggest leap of faith was recording three songs with serious jazz players — no rehearsal, just charts, a couple run throughs in the studio and roll tape. Bassist Tim Norton put the session together for me, with Simona Premazzi on piano and Roberto Giaquinto on drums. An Italian jazz session.”
She explained further that “they speak a different musical language entirely — it’s all numbers instead of verses and choruses. I wanted to make this record fast and this was the fastest ever. Two or three tiny overdubs.”
Little City Books has become an impactful community center for culture and music in Hoboken since its 2015 opening. In fact, in the past month, I’ve seen Jacobs and co-owner Donna Garban host Mary Lee Kortes and friends for a Dylan songfest and reading from Kortes’ book “Dreaming of Dylan: 115 Songs About Bob” as well as Joyce Carol Oates’ discussion about her latest novel, “Hazards of Time Travel.”
“Owning a bookstore is the best,” Jacobs said. “Donna Garban and I make it up as we go along. We put in a great sound system, and live music in the shop is one of our favorite things to do — walls of books make for excellent acoustics.”
For information on Jacobs, visit facebook.com/kate.jacobs.79.