Singer-songwriters Jodi James and Clay Parker paid dues for years as solo acts and members of bands. Last year, they found something new. After touring together for the first time, they blended their talents into a duo.
James, who’s based in Burnside, and Parker, a native of Thibodaux who moved to Baton Rouge three years ago, began writing songs together in November 2014. Initially, they collaborated via email during one of James’ periodic visits to Nashville. Even from a distance of 600 miles, the songs formed quickly, two and three at a time.
“We wrote about 12 songs in those two weeks I was in Nashville,” James said last week in a Baton Rouge coffee shop as she sat next to Parker.
When James and Parker sang their co-written songs together for the first time, they liked what they heard. Their performances of the songs were so pleasing that they kept the songs for themselves, instead of pitching them to other singers.
“It felt natural,” James said. “We just kept booking shows together and writing.”
James and Parker are playing their EP release show at 6 p.m. on Saturday at The Old Dyson House Building, 7575 Jefferson Highway. The self-titled debut recording features five original compositions and the traditional folk song “Moonshiner.”
The duo’s voices mix easily in the soft and sweet “Come Back.” In the folk-country “What It Knows,” James’ and Parker’s harmonies become one voice. In sad songs, the poignancy in James’ singing suggests Alison Krauss.
Another EP song, “Meditation Blues,” rolls forward in twangy, traditional country style. But James and Parker are leery of the country label. Their songs have nothing to do with Southern rock and rap-influenced modern country, they said.
“Because there’s a lot that goes with that,” Parker said. “But you can’t deny traditional country is a big influence.”
Next year, Parker and James plan to issue a full-length album. Like the EP, it will be an independent release.
“If a record company approached us now, we’d flat out turn them down,” Parker insisted. “Because of the bind that you can get yourself into, working for somebody else. We don’t want to do that. We want to continue with as much freedom as we have now.”
Freedom is key to Parker’s and James’ creative bliss.
“There’s no pressure from anyone else,” James said. “We do put a lot of pressure on ourselves, to do what needs to be done, but when we play together on stage, doing what we do, we feel that freedom.”
Parker and James also decided to pursue the music business their way.
“We’re going to approach this in the old way of thinking,” Parker said. “You travel around. You play your songs for as many people as you can. You don’t bank on a short path to success.”
It’s a challenging path, but artistic fulfillment and responsive audiences far beyond Baton Rouge make it worth it.
“We’re making everything ourselves,” James said. “If we don’t like what’s going on in Nashville, we’ll go to Austin or Raleigh, North Carolina, or Clarksdale, Mississippi, or Wimberly, Texas.”
“We’re so happy with the freedom we have, writing the songs we want to write,” Parker said.