Since J.S. Ondara performed under the moniker Jay Smart two years ago, America has been taking notice of an emerging superstar. Sooner than later, a whole lot of other people are going to be talking him up nationally.
The elegantly voiced, Minneapolis-based song strummer – whose love for Bob Dylan encouraged him to move to Minnesota from Kenya in 2013 – has announced the release of his national debut album Feb. 1 via Verve Records. Getting a good jump on hyping the effort, he will spend the next two months touring as Lindsey Buckingham’s opening act.
Titled “Tales of America,” the record was produced by Grammy-winning Los Angeles studio wiz Mike Viola (Ryan Adams, Jenny Lewis). It includes such high-profile collaborators as Dawes’ Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith, Andrew Bird and members of the Milk Carton Kids.
A storied record label that has fostered everyone from Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone to (more recently) Jon Batiste, Field Report and Ledisi, Verve will issue the record under its revived Verve Forecast imprint. The company released the album’s lead-off track online Friday, a song called “American Dream,” which apparently sets the theme for the LP.
“It is essentially a documentation of my time in America; a deliberation on the times, and a search for wisdom and the American dream,” Ondara said in a statement with the announcement.
The Buckingham tour already kicked off Sunday night in Portland, Ore., and crisscrosses the country all the way through Dec. 9. It follows Buckingham’s high-profile split with his Fleetwood Mac mates and the release of his new solo anthology.
Ondara has already made waves as an opener with the Head & the Heart, First-Aid Kit and Anderson East in recent months.
The song “American Dream” is receiving rave reviews. NPR noted: “The song and the video seem to deal with the past, the present and the future all at once. It’s a glimpse of America through the main character’s delusional vision of life. He goes about his day to day with no clear understanding of what is real and what is not — though he does seem to have a mission in mind.”
In an interview with NPR Music, J.S. Ondara explains about the song that many believe is destined for greatness:
“The video follows a man, as he sets upon a journey to purchase a weapon. While on his way, we get a glimpse of the world around him through his eyes, which gives us some insight into his state of mind. Ultimately, the video explores the turbulent times in the country, socially and politically, thereby throwing a shade of irony to the popular notion of ‘The American Dream.”