Vega-esque: Something in the way she grooves...
Though singer/songwriter Jem's tie to this town is rather tenuous– she is signed to ATO Records, the label started by Dave Matthews, the omnipotent Coran Capshaw, Michael McDonald and Chris Tetzeli, but was actually born in Wales– she wouldn't be a bad addition as an honorary member of our little burg.
For one, we can always use more varied stock in our gene pool (inhabitants have seemed a little incestuous as of late). For another, her latest album, Finally Woken, is a catchy set of sparky dance numbers, awash in drum loops and glorious overdubbing– just the sort of thing Charlottesville needs to end its present super-star-producing slump.
After attending Sussex University in the U.K., Jem Griffith began working as a promoter for various electronic labels as well as DJing. After a few years however, she moved back home to Wales and worked on her songwriting skills, eventually moving to London with demo in hand.
There she was afforded an amazing chance for a young untried songwriter, collaborating with producer Guy Sigsworth on "Nothing Fails," a single that eventually appeared on Madonna's album American Life. Hip-hop producer Ge-Ology and programmer Yoad Nevo soon joined the effort to present Jem to the world. 2003 saw the release of her debut EP, It All Starts Here..., on ATO records, and the artist's first full-length album, Finally Woken, cried its way into the world in early 2004.
Finally Woken begins with the dance number "They," a song I know you'd recognize from serious radio play, even if you did not know its name previously (it begins with a sting of "booms" and "da-da-da's" which are shortly accompanied by some well placed synth drum beats– sounding a bit like what you'd imagine an Christmas Oompa-loompa choir from the future would).
Lyrically the song seems an apology for the "Big Brother" state of the modern world, though who she is apologizing to remains a mystery (an unborn offspring would be my first guess)–"Who are they, and where are they, and how can they possibly know all this" is a little sample of Jem's paranoia.
But what's important to recognize here (and in all pop music) is its melodic content– and "They" is as catchy as they come. Suzanne Vega (remember "Luka" on the second floor?) in her prime probably is near the top of pop-nugget list, but Jem (and her songwriting/production crew) are not too far behind.
The demo version of the title track garnered Los Angeles radio play, which eventually led to Jem's ATO signing, and it's easy to see why they were interested. Laid back but still catchy, the melody spins off Jem's lips with an effortless grace; it is a good indicator of the rest of Jem's album.
Finally Woken is a series of well-produced pop nuggets, where only the beats really have a chance of duking it out with the singer's multi-tracked vocals for the privilege of reigning supreme.
Jem gives prime Suzanne Vega a run for her money.<br>PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO