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Baltimore musician Cris Jacobs talks growth and fatherhood

Before an interview last week, Cris Jacobs whispered a warning.

"I may talk a little quieter," said the 38-year-old singer-songwriter, on the phone from his Reisterstown home.

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A couple days after back-to-back sold-out shows at the 8x10 in Federal Hill, Jacobs was doing his best to discuss his latest career happenings while carefully keeping his 3-month-old daughter, Thea, asleep. The scene is emblematic of the balance Jacobs must now strike as a father, husband and touring musician.

Still riding the momentum from his second album, October's 12-song "Dust to Gold," Jacobs said he feels more committed than ever to his craft. The birth of your first child — an event Jacobs called "a life-changer" — will have that kind of effect.

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"As an artist, sometimes you can get really self-absorbed and caught up in your own head, making art and trying to define yourself and think about yourself all the time," Jacobs said. "By having a child, it just solidifies the idea that I'm supporting this child. I'm supporting a family, and there's work to be done."

He speaks with the enthusiasm of a brand new artist, but Jacobs has been a significant musician in Baltimore since 2001, when he formed the Bridge, a blues-rock band that played nearly 1,500 shows on their way to becoming one of the city's most popular live acts.

The group called it quits a decade later, and while the Bridge still plays the occasional benefit show, its effective end presented Jacobs an opportunity.

"At the time, to be quite honest, I was probably feeling a sense of innocent confidence and optimism," Jacobs said. "We toured so hard for 10 years that maybe there was a sense of relief that I could kind of start over with a clean slate, and do everything that I wanted to do."

In 2012, he introduced fans to his personal sound — more emphasis on blues and folk, with elements of soul, country and rock that would sound familiar to Bridge fans — through his first solo album, "Songs for Cats and Dogs." (It was officially released under "Cris Jacobs Band" but the name has since lost the "Band.")

"Dust to Gold," the follow-up, features a completely different backing band than "Cats and Dogs," including Todd Herrington (bass), Dusty Ray Simmons (drums) and John Ginty (organ and keyboards). With standout tracks like the mournful slow-burner "Cold Carolina" and the acoustic closer "Leaving Charm City," the cohesive record is proof that Jacobs' songwriting and arranging have improved over time.

Jacobs has been appreciative of "Dust to Gold's" praise, coming from the likes of The Washington Post and Elmore Magazine, but feels too close to the material to discuss its merits objectively.

"To me, it's my best work because it's my most current work," Jacobs said. "I'm just learning to make the art and let it go, and let people be the judge. Luckily, they've liked it."

As he did in the Bridge, Jacobs has spent most of his recent time touring.

In the past few years, he's found a fan in Sturgill Simpson, the Kentucky country singer-songwriter who earned a 2017 Grammy nomination for album of the year. After hitting things off in 2014 while sharing a bill at the Birchmere in Virginia, Simpson and Jacobs stayed in touch. Since then, Simpson has offered opening slots to Jacobs for nearly 20 national shows.

Seeing Simpson's acclaimed rise (he performed on "Saturday Night Live" this month) reminded Jacobs that perseverance and staying true to yourself can lead to success.

"It definitely reinforced that the right things happen for the right reasons in this business if you really keep it genuine and work hard," Jacobs said. "He's a guy who's really made it by strictly the virtue of his own merit."

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It's a road map Jacobs hopes to follow, in large part because his ambition is no longer just his own.

On "Little Dreamer," a song from "Dust to Gold" that features vocals from his wife, Kat Jacobs, Jacobs sings to his then-unborn daughter: "Tie your purposes on wings and fly to the heavens with the grace and courage of a thousand kings."

As Jacobs begins to fill his 2017 calendar with tour dates and summer festival appearances, there's an added sense of determination to the grind. Becoming a father has strengthened his work ethic, Jacobs said, because his career must now support others. He has collaborative album with New Orleans musician Ivan Neville due later this year, and has more solo material percolating.

It's a good, and busy, time to be Jacobs. That's the point, he said.

"I've already started writing for my next record, so we're just keeping the engine rolling, man," Jacobs said. "That's all we can do. I've got diapers to buy."

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If you go

Cris Jacobs next performs in the area March 4 at Baltimore Soundstage, 124 Market Place, downtown. (It's a performance with the Bridge.) Bootleg will also perform. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25-$35. Call 410-244-0057 or go to baltimoresoundstage.com.

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