If women are under-represented in the mainstream music industry, they certainly aren’t when it comes to Western N.C.‘s music scene. Female performers take local stages in every genre, from indie-pop to post-punk. Proving that the sisters are doing it for themselves, these three very different recordings by Miriam Allen, Laura Reed and Valorie Miller each shine with unique sounds and rich musicality.
La Capitana by Miriam Allen
On the cover of her genre-bouncing solo (with a little help from her friends) CD, singer/songwriter Miriam Allen notes these are “10 songs about boats, border, birds, rip-offs, Mexico, beauty, solitude, contraband, and one about love.” While the selections veer wildly from muy caliente Spanish-language cha chas (“Casa de Mi Mama”) to moody Gypsy-jazz numbers (“Little Row Boat”), Allen always manages to convey a worldly panache that runs like a palpable thread through the 11 tracks. Highlights include accordion strains courtesy of local multi-instrumentalist August Hoerr, the gritty roadhouse guitar of Neal Crowley on “The Prostitute’s Ballad” and Allen’s own fiery violin on “Pot of Gold.” The bluesy waltz Shanghai Me To Nowhere is a swashbuckling take on the love-gone-wrong song, upending any kitschy pretense with strains of genuine longing – a must for wannabe pirates. But where Allen truly shines on this album is when she travels south of the border, tempering Spanish folk song-stylings (these are originals, by the way) with well-traveled rhythms and effortless cool.
Buy a copy of La Capitana at http://cdbaby.com/cd/miriamallen2
Live at Tree Sounds Studios by Laura Reed & Deep Pocket
This ambitious double album (16 tracks) makes significant strides toward capturing the energy of a live-show for this six-piece local band. Where the disc is an improvement on the stage performance is that Reed’s powerful vocals are mixed up front, with the considerable instrumentation taking on a supporting role rather than competing for the listener’s ear. In person, Reed can really belt it out, but her strength tends to overpower the subtleties of her vocal abilities. While Reed’s trademark funk-flavored jams are the focal-point of Live, slower tracks like “Praise You” showcase the talents of her band (Ryan Burns turns in a not-to-be-missed retro-meets-futuristic keys performance). Fans of the beleaguered Amy Winehouse will find an apt r&b fix in Reed’s soulfully-delivered “Don’t Go.” If there’s a shortfall to Live it’s that Reed and company over-reach at times, layering backing vocals over ‘70s grooves over kinetic beats over supple bass lines without enough differentiation between levels. Overall, however, the CD is a success, just waiting to provide the soundtrack to a memorable Saturday night.
Learn more about Laura Reed & Deep Pocket at www.laurareedanddeeppocket.com
Autumn Eyes by Valorie Miller
Though Valorie Miller has been part of the Asheville music scene for years (before her solo work she did a stint as stand up bassist for Malcolm Holcombe), her recent Echo Mountain recording carries the weighty sense of an artist coming into her own. The 10-track disc is solid from start to finish with razor-sharp sound quality and an undeniable maturity to Miller’s songwriting. Each tune speaks to locality, stanchioned by a strong sense of place and resonant with the storytelling tradition. Yet, Miller also infuses her post-modern version of folk balladry with haunting mysticism and enough dreamy, surreal instrumentation (Mike Holstein on bowed bass, perennial local player August Hoerr on accordion) to elevate this beyond the usual voice and acoustic guitar fare. The disc’s title track warrants more than a perfunctory listen, setting the mood with the line, “Living things get more beautiful, right before they die.” While each track deserves careful attention (this album was obviously crafted with a great deal of intention), rockers like the spooky Carnival-flavored “Sons-a-bitches” carry enough fire to start toes mindlessly tapping. The best part of Autumn is that, accomplished as it is, it foreshadows even greater future projects from Miller.
Visit www.myspace.com/valoriemiller for a list of upcoming shows.