If your summer is anything like mine, you’ve had very little time to sit still. But I’m inviting you to do just that for a few minutes while I tell you about a Maine musician that has me particularly excited. JanaeSound flew onto my radar a few months ago, and she’s an excellent reminder that sometimes you don’t have to look any farther than your own backyard to make mind-blowing musical discoveries, and you can check her out live at two Portland shows in the next week.
Janay Woodruff performs under the name JanaeSound. I couldn’t make it to this year’s All Roads Music Festival in May, but I heard she crushed her set. I wrote a little bit about her before that performance and mentioned her tremendous take on “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” a song dating back to the ’50s that was famously recorded by Led Zeppelin in 1969.
In June, JanaeSound released the single “Diamonds,” and I’m already quite certain that this is my favorite local song of the year. It starts off slowly with echoes of drums, some chill piano and the lines: “I’m under pressure, but I don’t fear the heat/Got my eyes on the future, can’t accept defeat.” Woodruff’s voice is the kind that immediately instills hope with its ardor. It invites, even compels, the listener to stop what she’s doing and let the song wash over her. Said another way, Woodruff’s voice is sensational.
“Diamonds” is the kind of song that I didn’t know how much I desperately needed to hear until the exact moment I heard it, such is its hopefulness and spirit. Woodruff’s vocals soar with the eagles as the song progresses, with drums exploding like aural land mines. It ends with a soft landing that gives you a moment to collect yourself before feeling the need to hear it again. “I wrote ‘Diamonds’ in a dark place that’s all too familiar to artists or anyone with a dream; that moment where despite working the hardest you ever have in your life, you get stuck, all the doors close and the bad outweighs the good,” explained Woodruff. “In that darkness, doubt creeps in and you question everything. What am I doing? I’m not good enough, pretty enough, thin enough. I have no money and no team. I’m too old, and all my favorites (indie and mainstream artists) caught their break by now. I felt like it made more sense to stop than to continue pursuing music, but I was determined to push forward. With ‘Diamonds,’ I hope to encourage my listeners to keep going and never give up.”
Woodruff said “Diamonds” is racking up solid streaming numbers on Spotify. By last week, it was over the 15,000 mark and climbing.
JanaeSound has another song about to be set free in the world called “Break Me Down.” It’s a fierce take-down with blazing guitars and an agenda of exacting revenge. “You took me under your wing, I begged you for that/You tried to sabotage me, I won’t forget that/You underestimated me, so I’m coming for you baby.” “Break Me Down” is like a dragon coming out of its cave, and for three fire-breathing minutes, it wreaks havoc in the form or a riveting rock song.
I asked Woodruff for the back story on it. ” ‘Break Me Down’ is a catchy war anthem,” she said, “and I want everyone to feel invincible when they hear it. This song is about knowing you were wronged but refusing to be a victim, which is exactly how I felt when I wrote it. I empower my listeners to turn the negative energy people throw at you into fuel to move forward.”
The song will be officially released on Aug. 17. (If you want to hear it a few days before that, tune into my radio show, Music from 207, at 7 p.m. Aug. 15 on 98.9 WCLZ.)
Woodruff was born in Bellflower, California, and lived in Southern California until she was 9 years old. Her mother’s job brought her next to St. Louis, which Woodruff called home for many years before moving to Woolwich in 2016. She did, however, fly home just about every month to perform and to help take care of her late grandmother. In March of this year, she landed in Portland.
Woodruff’s earliest memories of singing and getting into music date back to when she was 6 and would dance in the living room with her mother to the score from the opera “Carmen.” “This would leave a lasting impact. I would pick up the violin a few years later and was cast in the children’s chorus for ‘La Boheme’ through the Opera Theatre of St. Louis,” she said. She also sang in the Grace St. Louis church during her teenage years. “There is nothing better in the whole wide world. I know I was put on this earth to sing,” she said.
A turning point came last July. She was opening for Flo Rida at the St. Charles Arena in Missouri. Her beloved grandmother, who had been battling cancer, passed away when she was on stage. “My family told me the news after I finished my set,” she said. “I decided then to no longer live in the shadows and pursue my dreams.”
Since then, she’s played more than 40 shows and just finished recording an EP at Halo Studios in South Windham. “I’m a happy-go-lucky person, a workhorse, I write uplifting music about defeating your obstacles … and I’m doing just that,” she said.
Follow JanaeSound on Facebook and find her at janaesound.com.
And now…let’s listen to “Diamonds”
Ladies of the House featuring Sugarbush, Emma Stanley, JanaeSound and Renee Coolbrith, 8 p.m. Friday. Portland House of Music, 25 Temple St., Portland, $10, 21-plus. portlandhouseofmusic.com
Ladies in Blue: Renee Coolbrith and JanaeSound collaborating with local female artists featuring covers and original tunes, 6 to 7:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 13. Blue, 650A Congress St., Portland, donations accepted. portcityblue.com