Of all the singers who might legitimately be called Nashville’s best-kept secret, none would have a stronger claim, if she were the kind of person to make it, than Dark Shadow Records’ Jana Mougin. Born in Slovakia, trained as a classical vocalist, Jana became the lead singer, electric bassist and frontperson for the Czech/Slovak bluegrass band, Fragment. Joining in 1993, she spent a dozen years with the group as they toured around the continent and in the United States, recording eight albums along the way and earning her fans not just among audiences, but among her colleagues, too. In 2006, she married Sam Bush Band guitarist Stephen Mougin and moved to the United States—and when, a few years later, their son, Sammy, was born, and they launched Dark Shadow Studios, followed by Dark Shadow Records, family and the family business became her top priorities.
“I always wanted to stay a little bit active,” Jana says, “but it just wasn’t possible when Sammy was little, and Stephen was on the road, and I was doing the label work. I simply couldn’t imagine being on the road, so I knew I kind of had to wait until Sammy could be more independent - and he could actually play with me now, he plays bass! So I can make music again.”
That’s not to say that she hasn’t found opportunities to sing, contributing exquisitely supportive harmonies—and even an occasional lead—here and there, especially as Dark Shadow began to build a roster of artists who were recording at their studio. “I appreciate every opportunity I get to sing harmony,” she notes, “because I love doing that, especially when all of a sudden you realize that our voices blend so well, and we didn’t know it would even work at all until we tried—it all comes together, it adds the final touch.”
Still, when a Dark Shadow recording session brought an all-star band into the studio, Jana and Stephen seized the opportunity to put her expressive voice in the spotlight—and in “If I Didn’t Love You,” her first single as an artist on her own, she had a great vehicle picked out. “It’s a Steve Wariner song,” she notes. “When I was first starting out as a bluegrass singer, the Austrian band, Nugget, covered a Colin Raye song that I loved so much, but I didn’t want to do the same one. So one day, I thought, well, I’ll just look for a song like that one, and this was what I found.”
Backing her on the song are Dan Tyminski (guitar), Ron Block (banjo), Barry Bales (bass), Sierra Hull (mandolin) and Todd Livingston (resonator guitar), with harmonies supplied by Lauren Mascitti and Jana’s husband, Stephen Mougin. “A dream band,” Jana calls them, but there’s never any doubt about where a listener’s attention is drawn; though a discerning one may be able to tell that English isn’t her native language, when Jana Mougin sings, even the most skilfully crafted accompaniment takes a back seat to the heartbreaking lilt of her voice—and attentive or casual, old fan or new, every listener is bound to be captivated by the result.