Eugene Weekly : Music : 8.30.07


The Girl With the Incredible Voice

According to Debra Arlyn‘s bio, an unnamed somebody in “the industry” bestowed the moniker “the girl with the beautiful voice” upon her. I’m not saying Corvallis’ sweetheart doesn’t deserve it: her voice is soulful, throaty, passionate … hey, it’s more than Celine Dion had going for her, and she‘s super successful! Plus, Arlyn’s a sexy blonde with an innocent face. No wonder she won the 2003 Oregon Idol contest. With a list of influences that includes Michelle Branch, Christina Aguilera, Vanessa Carlton and Mariah Carey — and there are moments in her songs when she sounds exactly like each and every one of them — Arlyn could easily be MTV’s next It girl-with-instrument. As with the aforementioned bevy of Grammy-winning female superstars, love songs make up the bulk of Arlyn’s repertoire, songs with titles like “Fine,” “Why Can’t We Start Over?” and “I Love You.” Breakup anthem “Fine” even earned Arlyn a songwriting award. Its refrain: “Some days are good and some days are bad / Sometimes I wake up and I’m not that sad.”

Fortunately for Arlyn, you don’t have to be a poet to make the Billboard Top 40 or the soundtrack for WB series Related or to win songwriting contests. All you need is a tight shirt and a decent voice — and Arlyn’s divine set of pipes surpasses most of her would-be contemporaries. Oh, and the thin cotton T-shirt fits nicely, too.

According to her press release, Arlyn would like to distance herself from Idol-dom. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for Kelly Clarkson (at least, not yet), and I’m not about to let it happen for Arlyn. Like a green apple BlowPop, there’s no hiding that bubblegum center. Word to the wise KDUK listener: I suggest seeing Debra Arlyn perform while she’s still a local, unsigned artist from Corvallis. You know, before she signs to Universal and even her nosebleed tickets cost four hundred bucks and your left forearm. Debra Arlyn performs at 9 pm Friday, August 31, at Luna. 21+ show. $7. — Sara Brickner


Organic Pop

Are you feeling as if you can’t find a good folk music show lately? Who are we kidding — it’s Eugene. But just in case, there is a folk remedy: Abby Lappen, who arrives in town to perform songs from her new album Soul Reasons.

Hailing from Claverack, N.Y., Lappen has made the trek from the Northeast to the Northwest to promote her collection of songs that are dripping in soulful, Natalie Merchant-esque vocals and an eclectic mix of world music. She experiments with the sounds of jazz, blues, gospel and American standards on her 14-track album; meanwhile, she builds on poetic images and story lines to blend folk music with the American blues. Among the original tracks is an uptempo arrangement of a traditional bluegrass song, “Wildwood Flower.”

As a progressive thinker, Lappen fuses many of her beliefs and passion into her music. She performs regularly at humanitarian and political events and runs a weekly community coffee shop open stage in New York. She has also been recognized in a number of competitions including the Great American Song Contest (2005) and Peacedriven Songwriting Competition (2006). She was a Just Plain Folks Americana nominee (2006) and a 2007 finalist for American Songwriter lyrics.

The Abby Lappen CD release party starts at 7 pm Sunday, Sept. 2, at Cozmic Pizza. Donations are welcome — Katie Cornell


Gettin’ Aggro

Since they’re on Hellcat Records, one might easily be led to the impression that The Aggrolites are heavy on the punk. In fact, their sound falls squarely in the roots revivalist school of ska — strong Jamaican rhythms and a 1960s-influenced style. The “lite” part of their name is a tribute to arguably the greatest ska band ever, the Skatalites. And the “Aggro,” that means just what you think it does.

The Aggrolites are celebrating the release of their third album, Reggae Hit L.A., their second effort for Hellcat Records. In today’s post-everything musical culture, The Aggrolites are refreshingly old school, with catchy singalong tunes. This five-piece group of veteran L.A. musicians blends energetic reggae with a little bit of rock and a lot of soul for a hybrid they call “dirty reggae.”

This new album is already a hit, with their first single, “Free Time,” burning up airwaves across the country. Having a yummy new reggae song in the stereo makes the waning days of summer a lot more enjoyable, and this has a gritty funkiness that’s instantly reminiscent of the glory of London’s 2 Tone ska days while also exuding the roughness of Sublime. The Aggrolites appeal equally to punks raised on The Clash or Rancid, and to fans of the early ska traditions. Speaking of Rancid, The Aggrolites recently collaborated with Rancid frontman (and Hellcat head honcho) Tim Armstrong on 11 songs and four videos for his new solo CD/DVD, A Poet’s Life.

The Aggrolites and Wetsock play at 9 pm Tuesday, Sept. 4, at the WOW Hall. $10 adv., $12 door. — Vanessa Salvia


A Fine Debut

There’s something oddly soothing about the casual strength and catchy melodies of Alison Sudol, who performs as A Fine Frenzy (a name taken from A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Her piano-centric pop songs are the aural equivalent of comfort food: neither forcefully good nor necessarily bad for you, warming, familiar and solid. You won’t stretch your palate or need a new bottle of wine to go with this, but it’s damned appetizing.

Sudol is a striking 22-year-old who stands, on her album’s cover, in a red coat and fiery red hair; tiny woodland animals are drawn on the brown, dry background as if they’re peering up at Sudol, whose sly smile is slicker than her music suggests. One Cell in the Sea is an album of love songs and heartbreak ditties on which Sudol places herself easily in the general area of your Fiona Apples (with less of Apple’s drama and gorgeous unpredicability), Emily Haineses (with less of a sense that she might fold in on herself with lush self-examination) and even Death Cab for Cuties (the beginning of “Think of You” is like something left off DCFC’s The Photo Album). Sometimes, Sudol’s piano melodies (sometimes played by her, sometimes not) get lost in the mix, but her voice — a controlled voice that nonetheless sounds like it belongs to an approachable girl, a laid-back music lover rather than a high-strung diva — is always at the forefront, leading the songs through confessional tracks like the wistful “Almost Lover” and “Near to You,” which falters somewhat in the lyrics department but is a gorgeous showcase for Sudol’s rich voice.

One Cell in the Sea is the sort of album that stands an unfortunate chance of falling through the musical cracks; it’s too poppy for the jaded musical cynic, laden with familiar sentiment and swelling, gracefully arranged backing parts that sometimes strip the personality from Sudol’s tales, but it’s also possibly too intricate to instantly grab your short-attention-span listeners weaned on bombastically emotional radio pop. But give the album a good half-dozen listens, o ye of both musical types, and see if you don’t find yourself humming “You Picked Me” before you even realize it.

A Fine Frenzy plays with Brandi Carlile at 8 pm Thursday, Sept. 6, at the WOW Hall. $15 adv., $17 door. — Molly Templeton




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