Bloomington native Jenny Bratcher-Crafton, a.k.a. "Jeni-B.," has an opera and musical theater background. But debilitating health issues sidelined the music career of this talented vocalist and songwriter just over a decade ago.
Her "folky" debut album titled "Crickets & Honey" with performing partner Andrew Brucker was recorded on the Schertz Farm just outside Saybrook. The farm is also the venue for her CD release party Sept. 16.
Bratcher-Crafton said she preferred a nighttime, outdoor setting for this first recording, where crickets acted as background accompaniment.
“Yes they are,” giggled Bratcher-Crafton.
Was the cricket background chorus an intentional decision?
“Was the setting intentional? Yes. Were the crickets intentional? I guess I kind of knew where we were recording,” said Bratcher-Crafton.
She said she struggled with a name for the new album until her grandmother offered a suggestion.
“She said, ‘Put your headphones on and what’s the first thing you think of?'" said Bratcher-Crafton.
The working title had centered on the theme of raw honey. But when her first thought was “crickets” after listening in headphones, she knew the album name had emerged.
“And if you look up the symbolism of crickets, it’s kind of neat," said Bratcher-Crafton.
Indeed. A Google search reveals dreams and symbolism related to crickets foreshadows good luck and a desire to connect to a higher consciousness.
Luck is something Bratcher-Crafton could use more of. She attended the prestigious Interlochen Arts Academy in Travers City, Michigan, to study opera and musical theater before eventually graduating from Normal Community High School.
A disgnosis of the rare connective tissue disorder called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and a later one called CRPS Complex Regional Pain Syndrome sidelined her budding music career in 2007. Though still only back to what she guesses is 20-30 percent of her old self, she's back on her feet with “Crickets & Honey.” She hints at those past and current difficulties in the album's lead song “The Harder I Fall.”
Life l take you for a ride/Have to sit back and learn to enjoy show
Even the days you wanna get off/Search and find ya more child
Give it your all/Even more
Have regrets/Lose bets
Just place those bets nobodies keeping score
“All my music is pretty relevant to the things I’m going through and the things I’m challenged with and working on,” said Bratcher-Crafton. “I used to believe my successes is what made me, and when I got sick and had to start to rebuild and the journey of healing began, I realized it wasn’t my successes that were making me. It was my falls that were making me.”
Keep sailing on now/Like a boat, bird, airplane
You have just this one life/Go and claim it
Just keep opening doors
And always believe you're more
Bratcher-Crafton was born into music. Her guitar-playing father, who she described as an “out of this world” player, immersed her in bluegrass and other music from an early age.
“Sunday afternoons after we came home from church, everybody would be playing bluegrass and gospel music after lunch,” said Bratcher-Crafton. “Then we’d go to nighttime church service. I think the first recording we have of me is on an 8-track singing ‘Happy Birthday Baby Jesus.'"
“Dive Bombing in Paradise” is a song from “Crickets & Honey” she wrote with her husband during a visit to Costa Rica for a friend’s wedding. The frolicking song continues the album's theme of self-affirmation and moving on from adversity, while at times vocally imitating the birds they saw while drinking coffee one morning on a patio overlooking the ocean.
Heal you, heal you/Make you all better
Heal you, heal you/Make you all better
Mao Mao Mao
Taking me higher
In the shade from the hot equator sun/will kick back and sip out of fresh coconuts
Juice of coco loco love/life is simple here we don’t need so much
As fresh sea breezes steels away all life's worry and cares
“There great big birds would go 50 to 100 feet in the air then they would” she said, and then imitated the dive bombing of the birds as they splashed down on the water.
“They looked like the old war planes, that’s what it reminded me of,” said Bratcher-Crafton. “They’d spin down and come back up with a great big fish in their mouth.”
The album’s sixth song “Tighten It Up Now” is the toughest to listen to, and for Bratcher to talk about.
Born as a little bitty baby boy/to a sad, sad Momma Son
Didn’t have a thing to offer/bore you to a loaded gun
Oh she robbed you of your life/while you were up in that high chair
She left you alone way all along up there
And then you died alone/all alone down there
All of this happening before the sunshine of the morning
“My friend Ty was born addicted to drugs,” said Bratcher-Crafton. “One of his first memories was of his mom overdosing while he was in a high chair. He sat in a high chair for almost a day and a half before an aunt came.”
She said despite many obstacles, Ty was full of love and was surrounded by friends who loved him back. But like his mother, he became addicted to drugs. For him it was heroin.
“Unfortunately he perished a few years ago on the bathroom floor at the Salvation Army in Bloomington," said Bratcher-Crafton.
Everyone tells you of enough love to go around
Well I've seen my share of sad sad faces
Seen my share of sad sad places
Oh yes I seen my share of bad bad places
And I seen so many bad bad places
The acoustic, folksy “Crickets & Honey” is a striking debut for the former opera and musical theater performer. And she seemed genuinely surprised that someone might actually verbalize that sentiment out loud.
“Since I sing opera, musical theater, and classical music I never really realized I had a voice or could write any music,” said Bratcher-Crafton. “And it was really exciting to say … three or four year later … I did this.”
And it proved to her that her never-give-up philosophy is a wise path to follow. She said music has kept her optimistic and saved her from difficult times.
“I might not be the best or get out of central Illinois, but I’m doing it and getting to share it with people,” said Bratcher-Crafton. “And people’s reaction and how music can viscerally touch people … that just fills me up and makes me feel alive again.”
People like you value experienced, knowledgeable and award-winning journalism that covers meaningful stories in Bloomington-Normal. To support more stories and interviews like this one, please consider making a contribution.