Sacramento needs more artists and musicians who inspire community involvement. It could help turn the city around from its current depression-like atmosphere in which the poor are getting poorer and the rich are nowhere to be found. Everywhere you turn there are "going out of business" signs and people asking for money.
Folk singer/songwriter Jenn Rogar is a breath of fresh air to this atmosphere as her forward-thinking album The River offers optimism and social commentary messages that open up the discussion on solutions to these problems. This week SacTV.com explores Jenn Rogar’s issue-oriented music with a series of video interviews.
Nature is an important theme in her music as the cover of The River shows Jenn with her acoustic guitar at the American River in Auburn, where she grew up and became interested in music and learned to play the flute during her high school years. She attended UC Davis in the eighties, when she began to follow folk aritsts who sang social messages, such as Diane Patterson. Jenn then made her home in Sacramento as a teacher. By the late nineties she began writing and performing her own music.
Jenn says that the most important issues she writes about are children, the Novajo Nation, the death penalty, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, corporations, addiction, nature and peace. She will be singing at a State Capitol rally for indigenous people on October 12 at 1pm. It will follow an early morning rally in Woodland called "Woodland Shutdown Monsanto," in which she’ll be singing an original song called "Monsanto Ain’t Sexy." She has started to attend City Council meetings to promote Safeground, a nonprofit project to build 40 cabins for the homeless on two acres. Mayor Kevin Johnson responded to her in a recent meeting, saying he’s been on board with Safeground for five years.
For the past year Jenn has played regularly at Old Ironsides but has now moved on to work at developing a regular folk show in Sacramento. She’ll be playing her folk music at Luna’s Cafe on November 15. While her first album, Place Called Humanity in 2008, was just vocal and guitar, Jenn’s new album encompasses more elaborate arrangements with help from musicians David Houston and Mike Farrell. The album of 13 tracks was produced by David Houston at Moon Recording Studio.
One of the standout songs, which is Jenn’s favorite, is "Shasta," a melodic country-spirited ballad. She believes that nature has healing powers, which can be felt visiting places of natural beauty, such as Mt. Shasta. The opening track "Find Me" has an original flavor to a traditional folk sound, leading into a collection of unique songs, in which each song has its own distinct melodic quality. Some songs have a bluesy feel such as "New Groove," which lyrically paints an optimistic picture of ditching a man who can’t be trusted.
"Low Maintenance Kind of Gal" has a country sound and tells the story of "an easy pleasin’ woman" who doesn’t complain about conforming to a man’s interests, such as watching wrestling and football. Jenn explains in one of the SacTV interviews that it’s more of a message to women that they need to have more self-respect and avoid falling into such traps.
"Torah" is a song about Israelis and Palestinians, with a reminder that neighbors should not hurt each other. It’s one of the deepest message songs on the album. The title track "The River" identifies conscience as a neighbor, with a passionate connection with nature. "Remembered Earth" is an environmental song about visiting various cities where industries profit from pollution. The song says about Los Angeles: "told them they were foolish to depend on big oil / and make us all servants for whom we sweat and toil." The album ends on a positive note with "The Blessing."
Jenn Rogar is one of a handful of artists who have stepped up in the local scene to use music as a vehicle to communicate social messages. If all goes well, more artists will be inspired to move in this direction, since it can only help bring the community together and have more hope for the future.