Who the hell is Francesca Jozette and where has she been hiding?

The last thing I remember, I got a Facebook friend request (and I really only accepted because I'd heard her name whispered on the wind as some kind of musician and figured it would make my life easier down the road), but now she's got a band? An EP? A backup squad of who's-who local talent? More material ready to go for a full-length release? Jozette's Free Range Buddhas has arrived, and you're probably going to love it.

"I didn't even learn how to play an instrument until the last couple years," Jozette says. "But I've been developing this thing, it's just now gotten somewhere that I'm proud to present."

Jozette is a Santa Fe native, but spent time at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces and the University of New Mexico pursuing a degree in musical theater (she works in tech at The Lensic now; "I can go back to my dad and say 'Hey! I got a job with my degree!'" she says) and training her voice. These days she plays guitar and ukulele, dabbles in keys and is finally realizing years of what she thought was simply poetry as full-fledged songs. "I guess I've always been a songwriter," she explains. "I'll grab a napkin and write lyrics, those always seem to turn into a melody; I'll be in the shower and hum a tune and suddenly those feelings are coming."

The ultimate catalyst was a terrible breakup (a common story): "I had to reframe my whole existence after five years," Jozette recalls.

The formation of a songwriting partnership with local bassist Matt McClinton of Led Zeppelin cover act Moby Dick came later (there's a nearly 30-year age gap; a less common story): "I've never written with anyone before, and the first song we wrote together … we call it 'reverse engineering,' where she has a melody and I worked out the music around it," McClinton says.

Their songs have been kind of hard to find thus far (though they're now on Spotify), which McClinton says is deliberate—they're not in a rush. A physical version of their eponymous debut EP does exist, though, and the very first Free Range Buddhas show goes down this weekend, where it will be available. For the EP, Jozette and McClinton enlisted musicians like John Kurzweg (guitar), Karina Wilson (fiddle), Mikey Chavez (drums) and Justin Lindsay (guitar), recorded at the seriously-starting-to-kick-so-much-ass Kabby Sound with engineer David Badstubner and worked with Will Dyar's Hills Audio to master the songs, making it sound far more professional than the average local fare.

The self-titled debut, Free Range Buddhas, is pretty much what you'd expect from the band's lineup: A borderline Americana number with mid-tempo songs about heartache and loss and subtle forays into psychedelia. But its two-pronged secret weapon (a rock-solid band and Jozette's flawless voice) push it out of the realm of the ordinary into that of a promising beginning.

Is it perfect? No—but as far as musical introductions go, they've really done it right. "I've worked with a lot of great songwriters," McClinton says, "but I've waited my whole life for someone with a sense of melody like [Jozette] has." This tracks with the whole not-rushing thing, but McClinton is also right about Jozette's innate talent—for someone who's just now starting to dive into the musical aspects of songwriting, she really seems to know what she's doing. "She co-produced as well," McClinton adds, "and she really stepped up with her production ideas."

Should this sound enticing, Free Range Buddhas performs their first real show (not counting various impromptu appearances from Jozette and McClinton) this Saturday at Duel Brewing. One hopes the energy and urgency of playing live adds a little something to the songs. As always, though, I'm a little more interested in what they'll be doing six months or a year from now, when the kinks have been worked out and the songwriting has matured and Jozette has really come into her own. Still, for a limited-budget EP from a songwriting duo that features a fledgling musician, this one comes pretty damn close to excellent.

Free Range Buddhas with DJ Tres Martinez and Sunbender: 
6:30 pm Saturday Feb. 24. Free.
Duel Brewing,
1228 Parkway Drive,
474-5301