This won’t be the first time Hannah Curtis’ voice will be compared to that of Rickie Lee Jones; Curtis has heard that one before.
The thing is, she’s never actually heard Jones.
It’s not that Curtis is uninformed, really. And it’s certainly not that she’s arrogant. The reason she’s oblivious to the beret-topped old-school songstress is potentially much simpler, and more charming: Hannah Curtis is 16.
“I turn 17 in a month, though, I swear!” she insists. “I’m getting older!”
She is, in many respects, much older already. Curtis, possessed of easy confidence and forthright intelligence, dropped out of Reynolds High School in her sophomore year to pursue other interests.
“I just couldn’t do it,” she admits. “It was the whole being there eight hours of my day; I slept through my classes.”
Curtis still lives with parents Mark and Totsy, who consented to their daughter’s leaving school after she promised she’d study at home and take classes at AB Tech; those things never really happened, Curtis admits. She now works full time at Port City Java on Battery Park, raising money to record her debut CD.
“I wanted to do something that was worthwhile to me, which was working and playing my guitar,” Curtis explains. “It’s what I’ve dreamed of doing since I was a little girl.
“I don’t want to be a big rock star like most people [do],” she adds. “I just want to be able to do something I love and make a living from it.”
Curtis used to sing even as a toddler, when strapped in the family’s car seat (“Making up songs about the trees,” she says). Later, she would sneak her father’s guitar to practice on; when she first played a song for her parents, they were shocked, Curtis admits with a chuckle.
As a guitarist, she’s no demure strummer; her playing has a pulse, yet it holds and embellishes on the melody. Curtis sings mostly with her eyes closed, and something in the way she tilts her head makes it all seem a lot like prayer.
She figures she’s got about 25 original songs in her repertoire — though like all performers, some of her earlier material has fallen by the wayside.
“Just over time, you know, you stop playing stuff that you wrote when you were, like, 13,” Curtis elaborates.
“I’ve got a few of the boy songs, of course,” she explains with a laugh. “But [the majority of them] are [about] trying to find the meaning to a day — fighting to find something better in life than settling for plastic things, as most people do.
“I write because when it comes to something important, I can never get it out the way I want it. I either have to write it down or sing it.”
Curtis, who’s been performing for several years now at local open mics, regional youth festivals and out-of-state church-outreach events, is just getting a handle on dealing with audiences, she says. She worries she’ll be pegged as “that classic complaining girl writing songs.”
But in a town where so many of the newer chick singers sound like they’ve been beat upside the head with the Ani DiFranco stick, Curtis is a revelation. She seems unstudied and fresh, yet with talent as bright as her tousled red hair.
And by the way, Curtis has never heard DiFranco either.
Hannah Curtis has several upcoming local gigs, beginning with a Battle of the Bands fund raiser for Special Olympics Buncombe County at Westville Pub (777 Haywood Road; 225-9782) on Thursday, April 24 (admission is $5; votes are $1 apiece, with the winning performer bringing in the most cash). She’ll be playing tip-jar shows at the Well Bred Bakery in Weaverville (26 N. Main St.; 645-9300) on Saturday, April 26, and at Port City Java downtown (35 Battery Park; 225-7841) on Saturday, May 17.