Jean Marie & the Lads • Dancing on the Edges of Tradition

Jean Marie Learman’s Refreshing Exploration Into the Deep & Rich Roots of Folk Music

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music, Artist Feature,   From Issue 879   By: Robert E Martin

16th May, 2019     0

In the true tradition of the classical Troubadour, Jean Marie Learman is equal parts minstrel, storyteller, and curator for a legacy of music that has touched the soul and ignited the spirit over the vast generational expanse of time.

Beginning with her early solo career, up through her 25-year stint with the groundbreaking Celtic Folk group Equinox, Jean Marie has consistently displayed solid musicianship and an expressive vocal range that can easily be deployed to drive the lyrical marrow of her material home to the listener.  And now with her latest project, Jean Marie & the Lads, she has managed to break fresh ground through.  Containing an eclectic collection of originals, folk Americana with a shake of Celtic seasoning for flavor, the 10-track disc will be showcased on Saturday, June 1st at a CD Release Concert at the White Crow Conservatory of Music at 7 PM.

First exposed to music through her mother, who played organ for their church in Harbor Beach, Michigan, Jean Marie says some of her earliest memories were sitting in a rocking chair with her Mom on the family farm, which was six-miles from the lake.  “During my high school years I fell in love with the theatre and got into a lot of musicals; and my first solo performance was at the age of 9 in church, where I became the first 9-year old to sing the Communion song. But it wasn’t until college that I finally discovered Folk Music,” she recalls.

Her early influences in Folk Music were split between the older traditional material like Red River Valley, and contemporary Folk Music, which she didn’t know existed until college. “I was exposed to popular Folk Music from artists such as Pete Seger and Peter, Paul & Mary, but in college was where I discovered the itinerant minstrels singing wherever they could,” she continues. “These guys would come into coffee houses singing these really cool songs I’d never heard before, which is when I started thinking that I could write music as well and realized it wasn’t just major famous people writing music, but it could come from anybody.”

A multi-instrumentalist who began her musical odyssey learning the flute in the 6th grade, Jean Marie notes how “not a lot of farm kids played music, but my Mom was a city girl so she was determined to get me into an instrument. I practiced every day in high school and picked up guitar later in college. My first guitar was a beat-up old Epiphone with nylon strings that I bought from a guy who sold me the guitar and case for $25 bucks,” she smiles.  With her background in community theatre Jean Marie was accustomed to being on stage. “Once I got my guitar and could change a couple chords, I started singing in coffee houses and church venues and at bonfires in college.”

After moving to Saginaw in 1988, Jean Marie started jamming in a living room with Mike Ducharme, Vern Pococke, and Doug Baldwin back in 1995 - a group that eventually morphed into the notable Celtic Folk combo Equinox, which only recently disbanded after performing for nearly 25-years  at festivals throughout the state.

With two solo albums of original material under her belt, Jean Marie started up with her latest project Jean Marie & the Lads about three-and-a-half years ago. “Equinox was great fun,” she explains, “but we weren’t performing any of my own original material, which was building up and gathering dust.”

“I found my first lad, Colin Paige, when I was in Canada jamming around a bonfire singing one night. Colin has been singing Celtic music and performing as a musician for 30 years in the Detroit & Windsor area, and his encouragement about my material got me going. I always had confidence about my music, but had given up taking it out there.” Next on-board were Mark Szabo, who handles upright bass & guitar and Jon Potrykus, who plays fiddle and dobro. “I met Mark around 12 years ago and Jon is well-known in the region and he rounded out our sound.”

On their new release, Jean Marie • Lads on the Side, listeners are exposed to an impressive collection of originals written by Jean Marie, sprinkled in with a little Celtic seasoning for flavor. Kicking off with The Ballad of Augie Mattson, this was Jean Marie’s introduction to contemporary folk songs and sets an uplifting tone and pace for the collection. “I love the energy of this song,” notes Jean Marie.

The second track, Pickles from the Jar, has a contemporary flare that is solidly framed by traditional constructs, and is the newest original song of Jean Marie’s featured on the album “I think it’s the best song I’ve ever written,” she reflects, ”because the detail of the lyrics show people a story as opposed to telling them one.

Songs such as The Captain’s Wife, Unto the Night, and Breathe in the Water, all display a rich tonal delivery with beautiful, meticulously rendered cadences that guide the listener easily into the subject matter of each song. “I’m a storyteller, “explains Jean Marie, “and didn’t listen to much pop music even as a kid. People will give me these artists to listen to and when I’m writing, I simply can’t listen because I’ll get their melodies stuck into my head.”

Two particularly notable tracks include I Miss Ya Honey and We Give Thanks, the album closer. The former track has a decidedly ragtime feel on it and also displays the strength of Jean Marie’s voice, which is surprisingly reminiscent of the lush pop richness of such early ‘60s pop ingenues as Leslie Gore or Sandra Dee.

And We Give Thanks is actually the first original song Jean Marie wrote when she was first out of college on a 16-hour drive from Rochester, New York back to Michigan. “I recorded this one on my first CD and with this version, I picked up the pace on it considerably. It was written on my first Thanksgiving spent away from home.”

“I just finished my career as a teacher, spending 16 years at SASA and 8 years at Saginaw High, so I’m closing up two big things in my life,” concludes Jean Marie, “my career and also my involvement with Equinox, so this latest chapter in my life is an exciting one with endless possibilities.”

For the CD Release Concert that Jean Marie & the Lads will be performing at the White Crow Conservatory of Music on June 1st, in addition to performing songs from the new release, the talents of individual members will also be showcased.

 “I love playing at the White Crow,” notes Jean Marie. “Churches are good places to sing because they’re made for good acoustics.  Colin has been singing for years as a solo artist, so we’ll have him do a number or two, Jonny will do a couple fiddle numbers, and Mark is a funny man so we’ll let him do his ‘Spam Song’, which shows off his sense of humor.” 

The concert will start at 7 PM and tickets are available at The White Crow Conservatory, 3736 Mackinaw, in Saginaw and by going to 

The CD is available by visiting Copies can also be picked up at Records & Tapes Galore in Saginaw and at Audiogazing on South Michigan, across from the Saginaw County Building & Court House.


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