J.S. Ondara played 89.3 the Current's birthday party last year at First Avenue. (Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune)

J.S. Ondara played 89.3 the Current's birthday party last year at First Avenue. (Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune)

We’ve been raving about J.S. Ondara locally since he still performed under the moniker Jay Smart two years ago, and now it looks like a whole lot of other people are going to be talking him up nationally.

The elegantly voiced, Minneapolis-based song strummer – whose love for Bob Dylan encouraged him to move to Minnesota from Kenya in 2013 – has announced the release of his national debut album Feb. 1 via Verve Records. Getting a good jump on hyping the effort, he will spend the next two months touring as Lindsey Buckingham’s opening act. 

Titled “Tales of America,” the record was produced by Grammy-winning Los Angeles studio wiz Mike Viola (Ryan Adams, Jenny Lewis). It includes such high-profile collaborators as Dawes’ Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith, Andrew Bird and members of the Milk Carton Kids.

A storied record label that has fostered everyone from Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone to (more recently) Jon Batiste, Field Report and Ledisi, Verve will issue the record under its revived Verve Forecast imprint. The company released the album’s lead-off track online Friday, a song called “American Dream,” which apparently sets the theme for the LP.

“It is essentially a documentation of my time in America; a deliberation on the times, and a search for wisdom and the American dream,” Ondara said in a statement with the announcement.

The Buckingham tour already kicked off Sunday night in Portland, Ore., and crisscrosses the country all the way through Dec. 9. Alas, though, there’s no Upper Midwest date. It follows Buckingham’s high-profile split with his Fleetwood Mac mates and the release of his new solo anthology.

Ondara has already made waves as an opener with the Head & the Heart, First-Aid Kit and Anderson East in recent months. Along with his L.A. recording sessions, all that touring explains why we haven’t seen him much around here of late. 

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