In the past couple weeks, I had the opportunity to a catch a couple of big time performers in small clubs. Okay, by “big time,” I don’t mean superstars but big time talents who should be better known in the (near) future.
First up was Butterfly Boucher. I remember hearing her here on the influential KCRW in the mid-00s when she was much buzzed about. Some label entanglements diluted the buzz and she’s finally releasing just her third CD.
Watching the Australian-born, Nashville-based singer-songwriter perform solo at the intimate Room 5 made me think of the old Stevie Nicks tune “Leather and Lace.” It wasn’t because she sounded like Stevie (because she doesn’t), but she was a study of contrasts. Not to the leather vs. lace extreme but there was definitely an interesting punk rock feistiness playing off a coffee house troubadour vulnerability. Dressed in black with closely cropped black hair, Boucher resembled a young Joan Jett and she certainly can rock out on the electric guitar. There’s a softer quality to her lyrics, however, as she addresses the struggles of relationships.
Boucher started her short set with “Life is Short,” a tune that was featured prominently on Grey’s Anatomy and she closed the set another of her better known tunes, the wonderful “Another White Dash.” In between, she focused on songs from her new disc, which is a bit of a departure for her. This self-titled, self-released disc holds a big sound full of beats and textures. Live, she used backing tracks to accompany herself, which offered a hint of what disc’s richly crafted music. “5678!” still radiates a compelling, dance-friendly spirit while a tune like “Warning Bell” feels hauntingly beautiful. This could be the year, and the disc, that finds Butterfly Boucher fully blossoming.
A week later, I caught another Nashville transplant, Ben Sollee. In a t-shirt, short hair and glasses, he looked more like a college TA than a musician. There definitely is an intelligence behind his music-making. Sollee is unique in that he plays the cello and he also plays the cello in very unique ways. During his short stint on the Hotel Café stage, he alternated between plucking at this cello strings and playing it with a bow. Performing with just his cello, he was able to create an impressive range of music. On “How To See The Sun Rise,” he created a funky bass sound, while his riff work on “Globe” resembled an electric guitar, and then with “It’s Not Impossible,” he drew together jazz, soul and Bach.
Besides his intriguing classical/soul/acoustic” musical fusion, Sollee came off as an interesting fellow as well. He talked about doing a tour all done by bicycle (including lugging the instruments). Not only was this an environmental choice, but he said it was also a way to make a stronger connection to the communities that he was playing in. Getting engaged more in communities, he stated, was one of his career goals. Sollee’s career seems poised for a big jump. He has done some scores for ballets and working on a live album as well as having a new studio effort out later this year. Like violinist Andrew Bird, Sollee has expanded the image of his instrument – a cello – and is developing his own sound. On his debut, Learning To Bend, he re-did Sam Cooke’s classic “A Change Is Gonna Come,” and he closed this show with a strong rendition of Cat Steven’s “Wild World.” With his fearless and inventive approach to music-making, Ben Sollee is someone to keep an eye on.