Although he spent the majority of 10 years on the road, Cris Jacobs still feels a strong connection to the stage where it all started.
"The 8x10 is my homebase, my backyard. I love it and the people who own it, Abigail [Janssens] and Brian [Shupe]. I think I've played it 150 times or more. Probably more," said the 35-year-old singer-songwriter, who played the venue last Thursday. "Some of my fondest musical memories were made there."
Jacobs made his name in Baltimore as the guitarist and singer in the Bridge, the popular rock band that took its members across the country and Europe. Due to economic strain, the bandmates went separate ways in 2011, but still play the occasional one-off show as friends (including an upcoming Rams Head Live gig next Wednesday).
Since then, he's fronted the Cris Jacobs Band, which released its latest album, "Songs for Cats and Dogs," in June. The nine-track record taps into a raw blues sound.
"When I first started up with the Cris Jacobs Band, I wasn't trying to recycle the vibe of the Bridge. I was really trying to dig into some genuine artistic space and come up with some new stuff," Jacobs, who performs alongside New Orleans artist Eric Lindell Sunday at Creative Alliance, said on the phone last week. "I just try to keep current with the sounds in my head. … I never thought, 'I'm gonna write a dirty, bluesy record.'"
Inspiration for the album came from myriad sources, including professional athletes. Retired Raven Ray Lewis, in particular, stood out to Jacobs.
"I'm always inspired by the commitment that some of these guys have. It just sort of makes you look at yourself like, 'Man, am I doing my best?' Whenever I watch him speak or see some sort of special on him, I go upstairs and practice for four hours," said Jacobs.
Though Jacobs is responsible for most of the band's material, it's his bandmates who help flesh the songs out in the studio.
"'Dragonfly' was a tune I brought to the studio having just written it," he said. "The band really helped me tweak it. The other guys add so much to it. I bring them the songs as shells and arrangements, and allow everybody to do their thing."
When choosing the subject matter of songs, Jacobs prefers to blend real-life accounts and fictional storytelling. Songs that seem to have an autobiographical edge, such as "Mama was a Redbone," are sometimes pure fantasy.
"Mama was a Redbone" "is actually a funny, whimsical thing I did about my dog," Jacobs said. "He's half-Redbone, half-Labrador. I was sitting in the house playing this riff and he was sort of bumbling around, and I made up some imaginary story about his parents and where he came from."
With a significant shift in sound and personnel, Jacobs realizes that he can't please all of his old fans.
"The Bridge is the Bridge, and when we play, I love that music dearly," Jacobs said. "When I write for this band, I'm just trying to keep current with what's in my heart and in my head. I can't cater and hope that every Bridge fan likes what I'm doing."
Though he continues to perform, the logistics of balancing his newfound home-life and aging poses certain challenges.
"Right now, I'm off the road and figuring out how to make a new band with being the age that I am. I'm not 22 anymore. I'm not trying to buy a van and a trailer, playing for free beer," he said. "How do you balance the investment with the current situation? I don't want to be just a local musician, but it proposes a lot of logistical problems. It really does feel like starting over."
While the future is open, Jacobs looks at the past fondly. With many years and miles behind him, he says his heart still belongs to the city's music scene.
"There's a very tight-knit community of music lovers," he said. "When I play a show, I see a lot of the same people as when I go to a show. There's a very family-oriented vibe in Baltimore that extends beyond the music scene. It's a very rooted city and it's supported me my whole career."
If you go
Cris Jacobs, along with Eric Lindell, performs Nov. 24 at Creative Alliance, 3134 Eastern Ave. in Highlandtown. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $25 and $20 for members. Call 410-276-1651 or go to creativealliance.org.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun