Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Artist Spotlight: PJ Brunson Known in the Carolinas as 'Female James Taylor'

By Chuck Whiting
MCAU Editor

            NASHVILLE -- PJ Brunson is a South Carolina-based singer, songwriter, composer, guitarist and pianist who has performed extensively across the Southeast region, opening for legendary artists such as Lyle Lovett and Nanci Griffith

            Known in the Carolinas as the "female James Taylor", the acoustic folk/easy listening artist delights audiences on guitar and piano with hints of Americana, country, pop, blues, Celtic, new age, classical and rock. Her songs, instrumentals and lyrics reflect her deep appreciation of poetry, art, literature and Southern heritage -- with imagery-accented stories of love and lore that appeal to audiences from all walks of life. 

            PJ has received accolades from fans and the media alike. The publication Creative Loafing named her Charlotte's "Best Acoustic Folk Act". Her latest album, "Home To Me", was nominated for Folk Album of the Year by members of the International Music and Entertainment Association.

            PJ wrote her first song at age 5 (a rewrite of the love theme from the movie "Exodus") after she nearly drowned during a family outing to Santee Lake in South Carolina. Her "beloved" adoptive father rescued her just in time. 

            "I remember being in a tunnel, seeing the light, feeling divine arms enfolding me, and hearing a voice whisper 'it's alright'," PJ says. "In that moment, I felt a peace unlike anything I have experienced since. And once on dry land, I felt an overwhelming longing to return to that sense of peace. What I ultimately hope to share in my music is the feeling, knowledge and hope that peace exists beyond this world and beyond all of our problems."

PJ Brunson (Photo provided by PJ Brunson)

            Her grandmother on her father's side paid for piano lessons after convincing her mother to buy a piano. Her maternal grandmother bought PJ her first "real" guitar when she was 16. She learned to play the instrument by observing a folk guitar teacher on ETV. Her first paid gig at a local club led to a TV appearance and opportunity to record in a real studio. She later studied classical guitar and piano after landing a music scholarship to Limestone College in Gaffney, S.C.

            One of her greatest accomplishments as a budding professional artist was opening for Lovett and Griffith at Spirit Square in Charlotte and advancing to the second round of the "You Can Be A Star" talent search. She has performed at a host of prominent venues since then, including Nashville's Commodore Lounge and Renaissance Hotel.

            The singer-songwriter has recorded six albums as a solo artist and/or member of the New Age duo Ananda, with songs airing on radio stations and websites around the world. 

            "I describe my latest solo album, 'Home to Me', as a love-in-all-phases CD: the good, the bad, and the ugly," says PJ, whose performances and recordings feature some of the South's top folk and Americana musicians. "Performing my songs is the one thing I know I can do to make the world a better place. It's the opportunity to share my story and make someone smile, feel, think about something in a different way, and even cry if they have to." 

            Fans have praised the 14-song project as comforting, drifting, thought provoking, life changing, and authentic -- a gentle way to find peace in a troubled world. The Herald newspaper in Rock Hill, S.C., described her performances as "so clear and captivating... she has often been compared to Joan Baez and Karen Carpenter."

            Using lyrics that often sound like poems, PJ treats listeners and audiences to metaphorical stories of life, love and legend. The songs are brought to life with the artist's mesmerizing alto vocals and intricate finger picking on acoustic guitar.  Other musicians on the project include violinist Glen Alexander, double bassist Tom Hildreth, background vocalists Jessica Lynn and K deValk, flutiest Laurie Neal, and percussionist Donny Fletcher.  

            "Hopefully, my songs and performances are cathartic, making people forget about their problems for a while and find something worth taking home with them at the end of the night," says the artist. "It's my purpose -- What I've sensed was my purpose since I was a small child." 

            PJ serenades the Spirit of Love with the tune "Morning Song", blissfully describing how euphoric she feels at various times of the day. "We'll share our midnight dreams," she sings to her suitor. "...Holding on until the morning light."

            The artist reveals her appreciation for Greek lore with "Pegasus", an ode to Poseidon's winged stallion who scattered stars across the night sky. The singer longs for something she doesn't or can't have and being shackled by things beyond her control. "So, Pegasus fly me away on your wings... When the songs become shackles a singer can't sing... A poet inspired but lonesome am I... For I want the moon but I can't reach the sky."

            One of the artist's favorites is "Crystal Glass of Romance", a song about someone who still believes in love even when relationships don't last. "I have been a thousand times where some people only dream of... I've known the peace of mind that the lonely never find."

            The artist has performed her original songs at restaurants, bars, churches, weddings, bookstores, festivals, parks, private parties, and coffee houses. Other appearances include the Charlotte Music Awards Singer-Songwriter Showcase; the Awendaw (S.C.) Green Barn Jam; The Come-See-Me Festival in Rock Hill, S.C.; the York (S.C.) Summerfest; St. John's United Methodist Church in Vacaville, Calif.; Community Performance Center in Rock Hill, S.C.; the Sylvia Theater in York, S.C.; Manhattan's in Knoxville, Tenn.; The Grey Eagle in Asheville, N.C.; Cafe' 99 and Cumberlands in Charleston, S.C.; Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens in Belmont, N.C.; and various writers nights in the Carolinas and Tennessee.

            According to Kristy Marett, a writer for the blog Gig-Spotting, the artist "effortlessly bridges the eras of our favorite music, and melds them together with a flavor that's seasoned, yet fresh."

             PJ's other solo albums are "Long Road - Live" (2003) and "Come Hell or High Water" (2001). Her New Age duo Ananda has recorded the albums "Comfort and Joy - Christmas" (2013), "Dusk Till Dawn" (2012), and "Still Waters" (2010).

            "A gem... a real class act all the way through... clearly one of the very best female guitarists in the area," raved Rob McHale, host of the Summit Coffee Songwriters Showcase in Davidson, N.C.

            The singer-songwriter has received substantial news media coverage, appearing on WMNF-FM in Tampa, Fla.; "The Session with Tzima Brown" on radio station 95.9-FM The Point in Columbia, S.C.; WSGE-FM in Dallas, N.C.; WGWG-FM in Boiling Springs, N.C.; and "The Bo Travis Show" on Charlotte Cable Television.

            PJ loves to reflect on her South Carolina upbringing.

            "I was raised in Sumter, S.C., with "a lullaby running through my head... literally," the artist laughs. "You can actually hear that line in my song, 'Lullaby'."

            She knew she wanted to be a musician after watching a guitarist/singer perform on television. Music was playing all around her. Her grandfather on her mother's side played guitar on the front porch or in the living room, much like Andy Griffith did in TV's Mayberry. Her great-grandfather on her father's side, whom she never met, was a classically trained pianist who played ragtime in the honky-tonks of St. Louis. Her mother and father, who were musically inclined and could sing, encouraged her to develop her talents. Family members listened to a wide range of recorded music by artists such as Johnny Mathis, Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Charlie Pride. But growing up, PJ's favorite artists were Simon and Garfunkel, Jim Croce, The Carpenters, and Harry Nilsson.

            "I want to touch hearts across the nation and around the world by writing and performing powerful music that connects, heals and comforts people," PJ continues.

            To learn more about PJ Brunson or to hear her music, visit www.pjbrunson.com, www.facebook.com/pjbrunsonmusic, www.reverbnation.com/pjbrunson, www.pjbrunson.bandcamp.com, or www.twitter.com/pbrunson4. You can contact the artist at pj@pjbrunson.com or (803) 324-1906 or (803) 729-0397.

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