Saturday night in Hoboken, and a normally sleepy spot in the middle of town was buzzing with fresh energy. The Church of the Holy Innocents on Willow Avenue is best-known these days as the place where farmer’s markets and Christmas Tree lots sprout up. Founded in 1872, the church has not been active for a long time, but there’s an ongoing attempt to transform it into a unique event space. On Saturday, April 22nd, it hosted the album release party for Hoboken’s own James Calleo.
A native of Ramsey, New Jersey, Calleo left the state after graduating high school and spent some time traveling around, seeking inspiration. His travels somehow brought him right back to Jersey—to Hoboken, specifically, where he’s established himself as a fixture in both the burgeoning local yoga scene (he teaches classes at Pavana Yoga on 1st Street and Real Hot Yoga at 1414 Grand) and the local music scene. Over the last few years Calleo has been a familiar figure at Maxwell’s, Finnegan’s Pub, and Pier 13, playing his original songs and building up a dedicated following.
The journey to his new album began in 2015, when Calleo traveled to India, where he’d volunteered to teach children in a rural village English and music. He traveled on from there and formed a band, playing gigs around India, earning just enough to cover room and board. Upon returning to the U.S., Calleo decided he had to pursue his music. His friend and yoga instructor is none other than Grammy Award-winner Ben Wisch, who’s worked with artists such as Cyndi Lauper and Marc Cohn, so it was naturally for Calleo to reach out to Wisch, who agreed to produce the album, and Calleo set up a GoFundMe page to pay for recording time.
The final result is James Calleo, available now from iTunes, Amazon, and streaming on Spotify. On Saturday, a few hundred folks gathered at the old church for a launch party that included Calleo’s performance of the entire record, and it was one seriously cool evening.
The Church of the Holy Innocents is a beautiful space. With tables set up in the nave and a makeshift stage created in front of the chancel, the columns soared up above our heads and the place filled with the expectant buzz of the crowd. For a cover charge of $10, there was plenty of food, wine, beer, and soft drinks while Calleo moved through the room saying hello to his fans in his friendly, easygoing way, an artist clearly delighted to finally be sharing his work with everyone.
At eight, the show started, and the church filled with music. Everyone pushed to the front, eager to hear, and people began dancing almost from the first note. Calleo’s music, inspired by his travels around the country and the world, is deceptively mellow; most songs start of with easygoing guitar strumming and then slowly build into something multi-layered and surprising. They sway and swagger confidently, and at the release party you could almost see people unconsciously start to respond—swaying in place at first, then forgetting where they were and giving in, finding themselves in the midst of a dancefloor. At one point the dancers broke into a spontaneous conga line and began worming their way through the rest of the crowd like a blissed-out parade, sucking folks in as they went.
Calleo ended the set with a gorgeous cover of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain,” and the whole place joined in as the band indulged in some energetic jamming, ending the evening on a sweaty, exuberant note. Everyone received a copy of the album on the way out—and you owe it to yourself to check it out, as well. Calleo told The Latest Noise back in March that he intended the release to be a party—and we here at HoLi say, “Mission accomplished!”