Jeanne Jolly was a sight unseen, a voice unheard to many in the audience when one of her recent concerts began.
After just a few songs, a buzz in the crowd was fairly audible. The overheard, hushed conversation between a 30-something couple seated in the second row was typical. She: “This woman’s voice is so good, how come we’d never heard her before?” He: “I don’t know. Her music is really, really good, and her band is dynamite. You’re right. I don’t know why she’s not more famous.”
Once seen and heard, singer-songwriter Jeanne Jolly from Raleigh, N.C., is hard to forget, her songs easy to remember — especially if you have her debut, “Angels,” and have the habit of playing over and over the 10-track collection released last October. One of contemporary music’s best-kept secrets, she is a revelation when you sit in on one of her concerts.
Classically trained at the New England Conservatory in Boston — where she received a master’s degree in vocal performance in 2003 — her voice wraps around folk, country, pop, Southern roots, jazz, blues, you name it. All of those genres are showcased on the CD and complemented marvelously on the majority of the cuts by eight-string guitarist Chris Boerner and set to the beat of drummer-percussionist Nick Baglio.
Boerner, who has known Jolly since kindergarten and considers her a “world-class singer,” produced “Angels.” He and Baglio will appear with Jolly when she performs Saturday night at the Amazing Things Art Center in Framingham. It’s part of an extensive national tour that Jolly has embarked on to promote the recording and, perhaps, make her “more famous” after all.
“This is the most I’ve been out with my music, and that was the goal,” Jolly said in a phone conversation from her home in Raleigh. “We’re accomplishing our goal of staying busy and getting to see the country. The point is to get the music to as many people who don’t know who you are as you can.”
Released on, and financed and distributed by, the independent Foreign Exchange Music label, “Angels” is “going well,” Jolly said. The international crowd has been fed and apparently likes the taste; “Angels” debuted in the top 15 on iTunes in the singer-songwriter category.
“We’re excited about that,” said Jolly. “I know it’s kind of an eclectic record, but it’s been received well. It’s been played by jazz, country, folk stations. . . . Different songs have different places for different people, so it’s interesting to see how that’s unfolded.”
What she hopes unfolds is that her fame (if not fortune) spreads and her fan base expands accordingly.
“I have people around me who are supporting me in any way they can,” Jolly said. “This is an age of DIY, and we do the best we can. I don’t know what will come. I know what I dream about, that I would like to continue to play before bigger and bigger audiences and have more and more people inspired by my music.”
It’s not that good audience numbers have not caught Jolly’s act. The Red Ants Pants Music Festival in Montana last year welcomed her along with such staples as Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, and Mary Chapin Carpenter. Some 4,000 people cheered them on. Jolly has also opened for Irish folk singer Maura O’Connell.
Another major feather in her cap was when Jolly played Carnegie Hall during her year-plus as lead vocalist touring with Grammy Award-winning jazz trumpeter Chris Botti, stemming from her 5½ years (2004-09) in Los Angeles.
Jolly’s career got a jump-start in Boston. After studying as a vocal performance major as an undergraduate at Western Carolina University, she came to the Hub in pursuit of her master’s at the Conservatory. She was in Boston from 2001 to 2004, got the degree she sought, worked at the Museum of Fine Arts, caught some Red Sox games as a Boston fan at Fenway Park, then headed to LA before the World Series began (though she watched the Sox sweep St. Louis on a little TV with rabbit ears).
Jolly left the West Coast in 2009 when her mother was fighting ovarian cancer. Mrs. Jolly lost her battle, and in 2010 Jeanne released “Falling in Carolina,” a six-song EP tribute to her mom.
“Angels” followed in 2012, and the rest is becoming history.
“I guess it depends on how you define success and how you define famous,” said Jolly, whose gorgeous version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” can be downloaded for $1.29 online (it’s available at www.jeannejolly.com), all proceeds donated to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.
“But, right now, without talking about the money aspect, we’re on a steady climb and I feel like that’s successful. We continue to grow. I’m proud of us. I feel like we’ve had a really good year. It certainly has exceeded my expectations.”
Dick Trust can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.