Trained on classical violin since the age of seven and not allowed to listen to recorded music until her teens, Jennifer Leonhardt spent a lot of time onstage in frequent live performances by the time she was eighteen. Drawing comparisons to artists as disparate as Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Patti Smith, artists she spent little or no time listening to growing up as a per house rules, her delivery shows a completely unique approach to musical styling, combining seemingly opposing elements and drawing deeply from the blues, old poetry and miscellaneous mythologies. Some of her songs have been covered by other singer-songwriters and bands, and included in films and on compilations with folks like John Hiatt and Bobby Bare (even Cash), and she's shared stages and festival billing with folks like Kevin Gordon, Tom Freund, Doug Burr, and Los Lonely Boys, adding up miles on an old Nikon documenting a time of unrest and change in her own life as well as the country, photos she posted on a blog she kept online until recently since 2005.
Born in Fort Worth TX, home to native sons Townes van Zandt and T Bone Burnett (a band mate of one of her uncles back in the '60s) to a family of musicians and singers helped develop her flexible approach to interpretation. Her parents moved the family to Washington DC when she was still a baby and she spent her early years on the east coast. With no television or stereo in the house, she spent long hours teaching herself piano and guitar after school, eventually listening to Thelonious Monk on a portable radio in her room late at night. Family time included harmonizing on everything from Appalachian traditionals to old-time spirituals, which gave her a broad musical vocabulary and became the necessary groundwork for keeping in line with her own vision: music for its own sake.
Completing five recordings in as many years was a necessity since she was writing for survival- the soul kind. Her first recording was a 5-song EP Homeless (2004) recorded three months after the breakup of her marriage. "Life was hella-hard, it was the only way I could make sense of anything. Kind of like licking wounds." With just her singing and an acoustic guitar accompaniment, Ear Candy Magazine gave it 4 out of 5 stars for "moments of brilliance". Hard Times LIVE (2005) was taken off the soundboard at a live show in Los Angeles. In the fall of the same year, after performing at a roots festival in New Orleans two weeks pre-Katrina, she began work on Gods & Nations (2007) in New York City. Compelled by stories of survivors of the hurricane and her own recent visit there with friends who lost their home, she wrote the album in a month and enlisted noted blues guitarist and producer Marc Copely (James Montgomery, Tracy Bonham, Jess Klein) who helped her lay down the first three tracks, including the haunting "Homeland", named one of the "Top 20 Americana songs of 2008" (KRVM Eugene, OR). Marc's signature guitar work helped to define the sound for the rest of the record, a punch of driving folk-blues. Completed by guitarist-producer Matt Brown (Lucinda Williams, Bill Frissell) of Trespassers William in Seattle the following summer, who added some Otis touches, varied instrumentations and lush modern dream pop layers. Water St (2007), a collection of alt country songs written in collaboration with another Austin musician, was never released.
Her second full-length recording Minstrel's Daughter (2009) was first released on her own imprint Grassroots Records and later re-released on Chicago-based label Waterbug Records. Dedicated to her family's influence and recorded at the kitchen table at home on Austin's east side with band members and musician friends, the album was co-produced with guitarist Jeff Rady with whom she co-wrote one of the tracks. The majority of the record got put down on an old Shure 57 mic, keeping the straight-shot vibe of a live band mixed with atmospheric playfulness. They went for a stripped-down, homemade sound culminating in a gentle but gritty referendum on love and survival by an artist clearly thinking for herself. In 2010 Sovereign, an acoustic, solo live album recorded in Brooklyn came out, mostly in response to fans request for something that sounded like her live solo shows, no band, no bells, no whistles. Compilations include ShutEye Record's United State of Americana Vol 4 (2006), A Taste of Triple A and samplers from Pop Culture Press, a 2009 Waterbug Records' artist's collective and Texas Music Magazine.
"Why this girl is not one of the top acts in the country is beyond me--her singing is like throwing a lit cigarette out a car window, she's an absolute runaway wildfire. Her band's live show is some of the hardest, rootsiest rhythm-n-blues-'grass ever."
-Don Wolff, Talent Buyer/South Padre Island Music Festival
"Jennifer Leonhardt knocked our socks off. Easily the best Sandbox concert ever."
-Lucinda Wierenga, Sandbox Inn House Concerts
"Jennifer leads the Whalers with a delivery touching on everyone from Chrissie Hynde to Edie Brickell."
-Dante Dominick, Austin.com
"Her performance is very free and spirited, reflective of time spent with old jazzmen and young dreamers."
-Duggan Flanakin, Flanfire Blogspot
"Some songs she did soft and soulful; on others her voice emphasized a raw, ragged and howlin' urban-blues folk-rock pathos. The tunes are tremendous. She's a music phenomenon who's star is rising -very much one of a kind."
-Aeliot Boswell, KPAS-TV, Los Angeles
"Jennifer makes music with so much abandon and passion and still with such delicacy and finesse that her performance both mesmerizes and invigorates."
-Pricilla Gilman, literary agent
"The first time I met Jennifer was onstage. We were playing songs from her latest CD and cut 5, which is [her cover of Billie Holiday's] "Strange Fruit", jumped out at me. As I plugged in I knew I was in for a deep experience. Ive checked out her website and earlier music since: if she ever runs for office, she's got my vote."
-Ritchie Mintz, musician
(Photo by Holly Bronko (c) 2009)