Northern Maine. Portland. Big Sky, Montana. They’re all places that mean something to Denver-based songwriter Jeff Cramer. They also happen to be along the northern 45th Parallel, the halfway point between the Equator and the North Pole.
“As circumstance would have it, I found myself living on outposts along the Northern 45,” Cramer said of the material that makes up his upcoming debut album, appropriately titled, “Northern 45,” officially out January 25.
The Wisconsin native, somewhat of a nomad, moved to Denver from Washington, D.C., more than four years ago for a job in environmental policy. Songwriting has always been in the background for the artist. He said he decided to pursue his passion in policy even though he had written several songs in his early 20s and was a regular performer around bonfires with friends.
Nearly a decade later he dived back into music, this time more seriously with a band, producer and Nashville studio behind him.
“The importance of song really got to me,” he said. “I got the bug and I had to start doing it more.”
The album is a composite of a decade of experiences, but it wasn’t until later that Cramer said he realized that the places that tell his story happened to have something in common.
“I almost think the parallel has less significance than they all tie my history together, and it’s sort of cool they’re all along the same path,” the songwriter said. “The significance isn’t in the parallel but in the stories that connect them together.”
The album represents all the places Cramer has called home, but also a resurgence in songwriting Cramer said he sees seeping into all genres, but specifically Americana, where his Midwestern twang and thoughtful stories feel most at home — like in his song “Legend of Bo Tim” which tells the story of a man who follows his dream to live off the land, along the Northern 45, Cramer said. But Bo Tim does so only to become swallowed up by the land itself.
“Nashville seemed like the most appropriate place to record that (the album),” he said, highlighting that the transformation he sees in Americana and folk music is most represented there with a pull between the 90s and early 2000s country music sound with newer artists who have put an emphasis on storytelling and songwriting — an easy example being Kacey Musgraves, who’s most recent album “Golden Hour” got a nod with a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year alongside mainstream pop artists like Drake, Post Malone and Cardi B.
Although it’s Cramer’s first original album, he hasn’t pulled out any stops. He recorded the album over 12 days at the Bomb Shelter in Nashville, former stomping grounds for artists such as Alabama Shakes and Phosphorescent. The album also featured a lineup of talent surprising for a debut album: Spencer Cullum Jr., who mostly recently worked with Miranda Lambert and guitarist Sadler Vaden of Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit — “If you can’t listen to their last album and not feel something,” Cramer said.
Cramer called the experience completely immersive, especially for somebody coming from a completely different world.
“I work on solar policy and I’m constantly going from meeting to meeting there and it’s a totally different skill set (with music),” he said.
The entire album has happened “relatively fast,” Cramer laughed. He recorded in March.
“I’m in it right now so I don’t have the perspective,” he said. “It’s one foot in front of the other. I would encourage anyone who has the desire and ability to try something else, to do it. It’s such a good experience to create pathways.”
Cramer will played his album debut show at the Hi-Dive in Denver on January 24 and said he plans to do some regional touring later on, maybe even along the Northern 45.