In late 2013, Sudbury musician JoPo met Juno and CCMA award-winning singer-songwriter Crystal Shawanda backstage at the CTV Lions Club Christmas Telethon.
JoPo — whose full name is Joanne Polack, but prefers to go by her lifelong nickname — had just released her first solo album, and gave Shawanda a copy.
Shawanda, who's originally from Wikwemikong on Manitoulin Island, liked JoPo's sound so much that she and husband, DeWayne Strobel, offered to produce her next album in Nashville on their label, New Sun Records.
“I said 'I just released this album,'” JoPo said. “'I'm going to need a year and a bit to write and to get my mojo going.'”
So for the next two years, the two women hung out and played shows together whenever Shawanda was in town. All that time, JoPo was madly writing new tunes, and finally told Shawanda she was ready.
“We just collaborated, working on the tunes,” JoPo said.
“For her to be helping me out and taking me under her wing, she didn't have to do that. I just so appreciated it.”
JoPo recorded her new album, “JoPo: Another Trip Around the Sun,” at the storied House of Blues Studios during two trips to Nashville in April 2016 and March 2017. She recorded with musicians who have performed with the likes of Johnny Cash, Cindy Lauper and Kid Rock.
Even though she stayed in Shawanda's Nashville home as her guest, it's an expensive business recording in the southern U.S. city, which has the nickname Music City because it's the centre of the country music industry.
It took her a year to record the album because she had to save up the money. She even held a fundraiser to defray the costs in 2016.
“Literally it took me a trip around the sun to do this album because I had to wait and save and go back when I could,” JoPo said.
During one of her stints in Nashville, the musician was offered steady gig playing at the world-famous Tootsie's Orchid Lounge (something Shawanda also used to do), but JoPo turned the opportunity down.
“I'm a northerner,” she said. “I like living here. I like my family. I like having a family camp on Penage.”
While most of JoPo's new album is her own material, she did commission former Sudburian Gary Beers of Stansfield and Beers to write her a tune. The resulting song, “Mama,” is about mothers.
“Like Crystal said, the first time she heard it, she cried in her cereal,” JoPo said.
But now all the hard work is over, and JoPo is holding an album release party at Sudbury Theatre Centre in the evening of Sept. 15.
The event is sold out, but for those lucky enough to have scored tickets, there will be a full evening of music, with performances by JoPo's band, JoPo and the RiZe, as well as Jamie Dupuis, John Newlands, Johnny Williams and Gary Beers (who's flying in from his home in western Canada for the occasion).
If you'd like to buy a copy of JoPo's album, you can purchase it after the album release for $15 at Guitar Clinic, One Sky Local Fine Goods and Sunflower Boutique.
Learn more on JoPo's website.