By Robert Price


For the New Jersey Herald


Pi Jacobs, the daughter of a West Coast hippie, was looking forward to coming east for shows in Sparta and New York, among other places, and sharing songs from her soulful new album.


Then the coronavirus pandemic took hold and virtually all performance venues were shut down.


“This has been really hard for me to not be playing my tour schedule when I’m so pumped to be sharing this new album, but I am doing online shows, writing, chilling and staying healthy for when I can get back on the road,” Jacobs said.


A New York show, at Rockwood Music Hall, has been rescheduled to June 9, but no word yet on a new date for a show that was supposed to happen this weekend at Krogh’s Restaurant and Brewpub in Sparta. Even the new Rockwood date could be in jeopardy considering how hard COVID-19 has hit Manhattan. And Jacobs is slated to head to California, then Europe, shortly after her New York dates, so there won’t be much opportunity to reschedule.


“I haven’t heard further yet about Pi rescheduling,” said Craig Cirinelli, who handles booking at Krogh’s. “More than willing, as I’ll try to rebook as many as I can that had to have their shows canceled. With Pi, being that she’s from L.A., it’ll be contingent on her rebooking her tour.”


On Saturday, Jacobs participated, from home, in the California Women’s Music Concert to raise money for COVID Relief Funds.


Meanwhile, Jacobs can bask in the success of her new album, “Two Truths and a Lie,” on Travianna Records. The album’s vibe is alt-country meets blues and soul, while the message is one of female empowerment, something that Jacobs knows something about.


“I was worried that having every song be about different female characters would make people pan it as an ‘angry feminist’ album, but the opposite has been true,” Jacobs said. “People have really embraced these songs and the whole concept of interesting women, more than I could have possibly dreamed of.”


Aside from being a woman going it solo in the still-male-dominated music business, Jacobs grew up in San Francisco, the daughter of a strong, single mother.


“I was born in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco. My mom was a real hippie, and we had a lot of musicians and creative people around. It was chaos, but also very inspirational,” Jacobs said.


Jacobs inherited her mother’s eclectic tastes for everyone from Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye to James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt to Prince, The Police and Peter Gabriel.


From electrified rock and roll to rootsy Americana, Lisa Marie (Pi) Jacobs has chased her unique muse over the course of eight albums, gluing her catalog together with bluesy, unforced vocals and sharply-observed songwriting. Her images have been compared to another West Coaster, the enigmatic Tom Waits.


“It takes my breath away that someone wrote that. I have not listened to a ton of Tom Waits, but enough to know he is a poet and master storyteller. It’s an honor to be compared to him,” said Jacobs, who was nicknamed “Pi” because “I’m mixed Filipino and English/Irish, I’m a Pisces, and I was born on 3/12, not quite Pi Day, but close.”


With “Two Truths and a Lie,” she turns her focus both inward and outward, writing about female characters (both fictional and historic) who've rallied against violence, injustice, and their own inner demons to improve the world around them. But the album turned out more autobiographical than Jacobs intended.


“Well I was raised by a single mom, who was the epitome of a strong, independent woman, so it comes naturally to admire that,” she said. “I started writing the record when the #MeToo movement was really hitting its stride, so it was impossible to not be thinking about that. I didn’t want to write songs about victims, though, I wanted to write about extraordinary women, which I think I did. I know that I am really in love with these characters in the songs, and I think of them as friends now.”


“The idea was to pay homage, in song, to normal, everyday women, doing extraordinary, brave and inspiring acts. Of course, in the process, some of the stories that came out were directly about me … and some were not…. I’ll leave it to the listeners to solve the mystery…,” she says, in the album’s liner notes.


Jacobs studied jazz in college, which, she said, opened her ears to all the possibilities of music. “My songs are very simple, but there’s always a little unexpected ear worm to draw you in. One thing that irks me in popular music is people doing the safe and obvious things. I love a good hook, but please don’t pander to me,” she said.


To that end, she’s even incorporated elements of bluegrass in her recent work. She recorded her album “A Little Blue” in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with producer Aaron Ramsey. And she works with acoustic country-folk group the Hall Brothers, of Virginia, whose harmony singing and bluegrass instruments are all over her new album.


“I grew up listening to a lot of blues. It's just in there, so it comes out in the way I sing and in my writing,” Jacobs said. “Bluegrass is newer to me, and really became an influence when I signed with Travianna/Mountain Fever Records. I love the sound, and the blend of styles so much, and I’m so proud that we did something unique.”


In addition to the Hall Brothers (Adam and Zack), Jacobs is backed on the album (and live) by a band consisting of backup/harmony singer Kel Pritchard, drummer Butch Norton, who also plays with Lucinda Williams, and backup singer/vocal producer Jes Hudak.


On the new album, Jacobs sings about “Diana the Hunter" and vigilante justice in a Mexican city plagued by sexual assault; weighing past heartaches against promise of a new relationship; and inhabiting a host of different characters, from party girls to waitresses to “Adelaide Montgomery,” conflicted in a rectory.


Musically, the album balances electric and acoustic sounds, and leaves room for gospel harmonies, creating both a return to Jacobs’ amplified roots and a resurfacing of Americana influences that were always there.


Clearly, even eight albums into her career, Pi Jacobs is still uncovering new ground, hopefully ground that she can share at some point with an audience in Sparta.