IN CONCERT: Mixing folk, pop and blues

May 22, 2007 | Reviews, Series 19

By JOSEF WOODARD
NEWS-PRESS CORRESPONDENT

Tuesday night at SOhO, we got a fine example of the healthy American singer-songwriter trade route that passes through Santa Barbara. Cambridge, Mass.-based Kris Delmhorst was the official headliner, and Ana Egge was joining her for a West Coast tour, opening right here in River City. Both artists have played in town several times, here and at the Lobero’s “Sings Like Hell” series (Delmhorst a year ago, Egge in January).

Significantly, both also represent some of the most impressive rough-hewn finery of modern-day singer-songwriting art, regardless of the slim pickings and deaf ears of the general public media/radio scene. Mixing folk with pop and touches of bluesiness, both have found a growing audience through the power of their songbooks and the distinctive way they deliver their tunes.

This Tuesday night music club was unusual in that Delmhorst wasn’t out in the typical mode of promoting a new project, and, therefore, was freewheeling in her song choices. Several new tunes from a work-in-progress brimmed with promise and had an immediate appeal. Of the new crop, “Made of Time,” “Free Driver” and “Blue Adeleine” are titles to watch and listen for once the new album surfaces.

Delmhorst’s last album was the intriguingly offbeat and word-smart “Strange Conversation,” with songs based on the work of famous “certified dead poets,” as she joked on Tuesday. She pulled out a few tunes from that collection, and demonstrated the blend of literate intelligence and musical hookiness that is a Delmhorst calling card.

On “Light of the Light” (based on Walt Whitman), and “Galuppi Baldessare” (based on Robert Browning), Delmhorst showed a winning way of combining the lofty air of dead poets with the earthy goodness of her sweet, warm voice and easy way with melody.

No one-note folky, Delmhorst has gustiness in reserve. She got swampy and bittersweet on “Weathervane” (from her album “Songs for a Hurricane”). Later, she sidled up to the jazz-folk muse in her suave cover of Los Angeles-based oddball Chandler Travis’ “What’ll it Be.”

Things got rough and hazy at times, when she had trouble accessing the words to older songs. After losing the second verse on “Invisible Choir,” late in the set, she joked, “You’ll have to buy the album. It’s my new marketing strategy.”

But by that point in the generous show, she had won the house’s heart and all sins of forgotten lyrics were automatically forgiven. Delmhorst was making her first live appearance after time off for good behavior and work in the studio on her new album.

But the Delmhorst magic was fully intact on the tender and lyrical “Hummingbird” and especially on the fetching “Little Wings,” from her album “Five Stories.” A line from “Little Wings” stood out as emblematic of her musical role: “I don’t want to rip the sky wide open/I just want my song to be heard.”

In a more artistically just world, Delmhorst’s songs would be more widely heard and better known. But those who know her tend to love her.