JJ Shiplet – Single Release – Fingers Crossed
By Keith Sharp
Calgary Country Music star JJ Shiplett had 2020 all planned out to release a brand new album `Fingers Crossed’, initial radio exposure, future concert dates and festivals planned. All the components were in place to launch a successful release – and then COVID-19 struck and all his plans went up in smoke.
“I released `Fingers Crossed’ March 21st, so it was two weeks into the pandemic when everything got shut down,” explained Shiplett from his Calgary residence. “Although some good things were happening, my options were still limited, I couldn’t tour and the standard industry machine wasn’t rolling. So I am sitting at home and Michael Bernard Fitzgerald (a fellow musician) and I were talking and taking our dogs for a walk and he said `why don’t you just re-imagine `Fingers Crossed’ and just call it `Crossed Fingers’”
So out of that conversation, Shiplett sat on the idea for a couple of days and decided, yes! he would go back into his home studio and re-record `Fingers Crossed’ as a totally acoustic record in which, aside from a piano intro into “Waiting For The Rain”, he would sing and perform all the instrumentation on all the tracks. The result is `Crossed Fingers’ a stripped-down version of his original recording which sheds a different spotlight on the sheer honesty of Shiplett’s songwriting skills.
Call it the `campfire test If you will’ but the end result of the eight songs featured on this album takes on a new dynamic when stripped down to their core.
When asked about the wisdom of re-recording an acoustic version of his album so soon after releasing the original, Shiplett explained “There are no rules in music anymore, I had the time to do it, I know I am not the most proficient engineer but I do know how to record an album and it was a nice opportunity for me to re-imagine the songs and re-interpret them. I just imagined sitting on the couch, playing these songs and I hope I accomplished that objective.”
Certainly, there’s a sparseness about tracks like “Waiting For The Sun”, “Northern Lights”, “Stand On” and “All Comes Back To You” which expose the personal nature of his lyrics. There’s also the addition of one new track “Bluejay Highway” to the original song list.
With his distinctive, `Bob Segerish’, raspy voice and folksy songwriting technique, Shiplett is aware that he is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to comparisons with other established Canadian Country music stars like Dallas Smith, Brett Kissell and Gord Bamford but he’s not prepared to change his approach to fit in with current trends.
“When it comes to getting played on Country Radio in Canada, it’s not going to be me,” Shiplett noted. “Instead of fighting it and getting angry about it, I just let it go. “Dallas Smith does a great job of reflecting current trends, he just crushes it but I have just decided that my goal is to come up with the best music that I can create. I am not going to get caught up wondering how I’m going to fit in. I’ve been there before, I end up suppressing my creativity to try to be trendy and it doesn’t work. When you start chasing an audience, it doesn’t happen, you’ve got to let that audience find you.”
Shiplett knows from what he speaks. A veteran performer who spent almost a decade playing around Calgary bars, he admits that he finally got serious about his career a few years ago, put his head down and started to take his songwriting seriously. He was discovered singing at a bar by Warner Music artist Johnny Reid, another artist who had spent time apprenticing in Quebec bars before achieving his own breakthrough. Reid signed Shiplett to his own Nashville-based Halo Entertainment Group which has a distribution deal with Warner, co-produced Shiplett’s debut “Something To Believe In” release in 2017 and toured Canada with Shiplett as his opening act.
“I cannot say enough about what Johnny did for my career. The guy is a true gentleman and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity he gave me, it was an incredible experience” noted Shiplett, who toured the album for two years before starting work on his follow up `Fingers Crossed’ release.
So how have Shiplett’s fans reached to getting two versions of the same album in one year? “I think a lot of people who liked “Fingers Crossed” will be able to find something different in “Crossed Fingers” he noted. “I have approached the songs from a different angle, there is an honest about the whole project and I hope that people can connect with that honesty.”