These days, Joanna Ransdell hears the call of the wild.
The Ann Arbor folk pop singer-songwriter and frontwoman for The Jaywalkers is weaving a wilderness theme throughout her upcoming second album, a follow-up to 2018’s oceanic predecessor, “The Open Sea Before Me.”
“The story starts with a song about being in Alaska in the middle of the wilderness because I lived in Alaska for six months in my early 20s. I think the element is earth, and it’s all about navigating the wilderness and going into the deep wells of hurt and heartbreak, investigating it and pulling out what’s causing you hurt and heartache,” said Ransdell, who also plays keys and guitar with The Jaywalkers.
“It ends with somebody embracing their healing. I’m a therapist, so it’s all about emotional healing and vulnerability. I think this one is more about facing your demons head-on, the acknowledgement of it and the healing that comes from that acknowledgement.”
Joanna & The Jaywalkers’ new tracks will form the setlist for Thursday’s show at The Ark in Ann Arbor. Along with Anthony Marchese (cello), Phil Rinke (double bass), Shane Harrell (drums), Mel Clark (vocals) and Lauren Pulcipher (vocals, violin), Ransdell will open for Judy Banker and help celebrate the release of Banker’s new “Buffalo Motel” album.
“Judy’s been very supportive of us, and I really enjoy her music as well,” Ransdell said. “I got the chance to see her play a lot of these new songs on her album, and they’re fantastic. We’re very honored to be playing with her.”
After Thursday’s show, Ransdell and her Jaywalkers bandmates will rehearse before entering the studio in February to record their next album, which will drop later this year. They will take time to craft beautiful new tracks focused on life, love and growth at Solid Sound Recording Co.
Ransdell also recorded the band’s breathtaking emotional debut, “The Open Sea Before Me,” at Solid Sound more than two years ago. The album navigates through nine introspective tracks laced with sea-faring themes and wondrous sonic tales about taking risks, overcoming heartache and moving forward.
“It happened almost accidentally. The song, ‘The Shallows’ is the centerpiece of the album, and I wrote that one at a time when I was in a period of my life where I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” said Ransdell, who’s inspired by Tori Amos. “I was working a job I wasn’t happy at, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay in Michigan. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take a risk and start performing my music more.”
The reflective track features seagulls chirping in the distance while sorrowful acoustic strums echo Ransdell’s hesitancy – “I will never get out of this place by swimming in the shallows/Shallows of my little heart’s ocean/The open sea before me lies untraveled/But I have no protection, so I can’t bring myself to dive in.”
Thumping bass drum beats and uplifting cello challenge Ransdell to take the plunge. “‘The Shallows’ was just a song that came to me about taking a risk, doing it and putting yourself out there,” she said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen, but you’re not going to get anywhere just staying literally in the shallows of your life. Just dive it and do it.”
Ransdell also accepts heartbreak on the haunting “Fingerprints,” which features slow acoustic guitar, forlorn cello and delicate drum taps lamenting a relationship that’s abruptly ended – “Whoa, you’re killing you’re killing me all over again/How long do we pretend?/Whoa, there’s nothing left of me, this is where it ends/We both know we can never be friends.”
“It was me really putting my heart out there. That was a very autobiographical bad experience I had had, but that song really formed that experience and allowed me to look back on it with a fond memory,” Ransdell said. “I didn’t want to put that on the album because it felt too personal, but my friends were like, ‘You have to put ‘Fingerprints’ on there.’ It became my favorite because it just felt like the most honest and vulnerable of all the songs.”
Another “Open Sea” highlight includes “Zombie,” a fun, quirky ode to everyone’s favorite brain-eating creatures surround by a monstrous symphony of cello, cymbals and acoustic guitar – “I got a crush, I feel the rush of blood to my head/I know if I stay you’ll stumble my way and I’ll end up dead/Your glazed over stare, you don’t really care about what I’ve seen/You just wanna cut open my gut, feast on my spleen.”
“That was such a fun one to write. For the lyrics, I worked with my friends Dylan and April, and they just helped me write this silly kind of story,” said Ransdell, who formed Joanna & The Jaywalkers in 2014. “It’s one of the songs that has so much humor to it.”
Zombies aside, Ransdell will relish spending the winter and spring recording the band’s new album and gearing up for live shows in the summer and fall. In a sense, she’ll retreat into a music-themed wilderness.
“I feel like this is a very fall album, so I think fall 2020 will be our goal. Based on the recording process last time, I think it’s doable,” Ransdell said. “We definitely love playing live, so we’ll be putting out feelers for shows for the summer and the fall. When the album is hopefully released in the fall, I definitely want to put together an album release show.”
Judy Banker “Buffalo Motel” CD Release Show with Joanna & The Jaywalkers
8 p.m. | Thursday
The Ark, 316 S. Main St. in Ann Arbor