Jennings finds it’s hard to keep talent to himself

John Jennings 

When: 8 p.m. tonight

Where: Ashland Coffee & Tea, 100 N Railroad Ave.

Tickets: $15 ($20 at the door)

Details: (804) 798-1702 or

John Jennings has spent the bulk of his career making other people sound good.

Fans of Mary Chapin Carpenter, for instance, may recognize Jennings as her long-time lead guitarist and collaborator.

But back in January 2005, Jennings was getting ready to release his fourth solo album, appropriately titled “Four,” and decided it was time to get a bit selfish and devote some time to his own career and music.

So how’d that work out for the singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer?

“It was a really great plan,” Jennings deadpanned over the phone from his Maryland home just outside of D.C.

Not that Jennings is avoiding self-promotion mode, but when guys such as John McCutcheon, Ellis Paul and Seven Mary Three’s Jason Pollock come calling for his production expertise, Jennings has a hard time saying no.

“Production projects come up and I take them. More than anything else, it’s what I do.”

And he does it quite well. Two of Jennings’ newest projects, albums from Charlottesville’s McCutcheon and Michigan singer-songwriter Jen Cass, are on what he describes as the “long list” for this year’s Grammy nominations.

Those nominations won’t be his first. Though Jennings has not yet made it into the winner’s circle, the Shenandoah Valley native is happy to be in the running.

“I’ve been very lucky. I haven’t won a Grammy but I’ve been nominated for a couple and I’m still thrilled,” he said. “People tell me I should have won. But they don’t understand. This has so far exceeded the expectations of everyone in Luray, Va. When I was a little kid, if you had told me these things would happen to me, I would have told you that you were out of your mind.”

In between those production assignments, Jennings has found time to make significant progress on his fifth album, tentatively scheduled for a January release. Jennings newest collection of originals will be backed by an all-star band of buddies including Jon Carroll, Dave Mattucks and Don Dixon.

“The new one is the first time in a long time that I’ve gone into the studio with a band, live off the floor. . . . I don’t think there are going to be many overdubs or fixes on things. The stuff right up off the floor is really strong. It’s a great little band. It makes quite a racket.”

Anyone who’s had the privilege of hearing all or parts of his first four albums can attest that Jennings knows what to do with an Americana songwriting pen. But when you’ve worked next to Carpenter, John Gorka, Janis Ian and George Jones, not just any tune will do.

“Writing songs is the hardest thing I do. Maybe it’s because I know how good the people I work with are. Those people are my models. It’s a high standard, but I’m really aiming for stuff that’s that good.”