Zoey’s Singer/Songwriter in the Round: Do You Really Want a Song Written About You?

“Waiter, I’ve recently gone through a messy break-up, which wine is best for self-loathing, red or white?” “Both.”

If you’re anything like me, then your music is the soundtrack to your life. Hearing a classic track can transport you right back to Sophomore year winter formal or can bring scenes of drinking beers with friends behind a 7/11 at 2 am to the forefront of your mind more vivid than reminiscing ever can. Songs, bands, and albums act as bookmarks of yesteryear which hold an ever present place in your heart and psyche that will probably follow you in to your “golden years.” More than ever the music is in the concerts. A simple survey of the man on the street will bring laughter, hoots and hollers, and devil horns if you ask them about the best concert they’ve been to. Music serves to elate, excite, energize, depress, commiserate, and reinforce, our mood in tandem with what is going on in our life. Rock makes us want to break shit, funk makes us funky, and hip/hop makes us wanna “make it rain,” or pour a bottle of Dom on a hot bitch. But then there is the singer/songwriter genre that seems to strum the strings of our heart more than any other when the mood strikes us.

The singer/songwriter really became a genre unto itself in the nineties. With acts like Sara McLachlan, Jewel, Amy Chapman, Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette, Natalie Imbruglia, Shawn Colvin, and Lisa Loeb, we started to recognize the honesty and beauty in the girl with a guitar and lyrics that will resonate long after in the strings of your heart. I know the S/S genre is not just women and not just solo acts, but in the nineties this is what developed and is widely accepted as the standard today. Go ahead, Youtube any of these artists’ big hits from the nineties and tell me you don’t get whiplash from the time warp back to the eighth grade. They helped you through the break ups, depressing times, loss, love, and anything else that you could identify with in the lyrics you found in these timeless tracks. The era this genre developed in was one the embraced doing things differently, encouraged self-expression, and a time when even the unsigned ended up with a number one single over night; just ask Lisa.

It is one thing to hear these songs in the car, with friends, or in the dark at home sobbing in to your strong drink of choice; but in concert, it’s another animal. When you are face to face with the bare bones serenade of loss, love, or life’s struggles it can get pretty sticky pretty quick. Let’s not mince words, when a S/S plays for you live something so personal that they lived it can foster a pretty visceral connection between the audience and singer; music like this resonates.

Wednesday night, I got a chance at Zoey’s in Ventura to experience the S/S in the Round. A quartet of talent and beautiful artists for an evening taking turns performing original songs and some covers of favorites with music and lyrics all their own. Right off, I could see a level of relaxation and got the impression this was almost a only mildly structured jam session where all the pretense of ‘performing’ was thrown out for just ‘playing’.

Something so intense can occur if you’re really paying attention and are open to what is happening around you. Performing in a relaxed atmosphere with their hair down like an episode of VH1’s Storytellers, if you really listen to the experiences laid bare at your feet, you get a glimpse in to a person that in any other circumstance would be socially unacceptable. “What’s that? Your ex boyfriend beat you but your love kept you there longer than you should have stayed and now you realize you deserve better once you are outside looking in? Waiter, check please.” But as they sing their therapy and it vibrates you at your core, when you walk up and shake their hands and compliment them it can feel like you know the innermost working of them and you are fast friends when all that happened was a four and a half minute single.

Who follows are the singer/songwriters from that night, dwellin’ in your city and your backyard, that just about embody what Lauryn Hill meant when she was gettin’ killed softly.

Pi Jacobs

Pi Jacobs

LA’s own (via New York and on loan from San Francisco), Pi has taken her show all over the world for many years now. A genuine smile as she sings she seems to genuinely enjoy herself as she performs. Her music has been featured on everything from Road Rules, Real World, Josh and Drake, and on and on. Thoughts of Jack Johnson tunes come to mind. I just see a lazy Sunday morning in bed and a leisurely afternoon in a lawn chair with my favorite jeans and a pair of sandals. There are some funky little tracks in there, too; some Melissa Etheridge, early Sheryl Crow, and even Tracy Chapman come to mind. A wonderful talent, a refreshing voice, and a friendly stage presence, make her an event to put on the calendar. Check out her new album Fire Horse Girl, and look out for her around LA as she makes her home “down there.”

Delaney Gibson

Delaney Gibson

Well, what can I say…I’m a sucker for a red head. I fell in love with the music the moment I heard her single, “Chicago” and bought it, blasting it out of my car with probably more bass than was intended. Delaney has released a second album since then and the development of her stage presence and commanding musical and vocal ability is apparent. Her range is just startling with pipes that will frankly put you back in your seat. Her inspiration is ever apparent and at times is startlingly honest; acquainted with her music as I am, I was even struck dumb by the viscerally personal nature of a new song like, “I Deserve Love.” I would be fascinated by the reactions if she did a concert for all the exes that provided such rich fodder for the musical cannon; it might make for a good documentary. It is one thing to hear her album, but if you ever get the chance to see her live, and basically unplugged, she shines beyond the justice any album can do her.

Infectious lyrics, palpable passion, and a keen sense of balance even in her heavier pieces she knows what she is doing with every key stroke or strum of the guitar. You can hear some of her Dolly Parton spunk at times, but when I look at Delaney I see a girl in an evening gown (and cowboy boots) setting a piano on fire at a stuffy dinner party. Talented, staggeringly beautiful, and driven as all get out she won’t be our little secret for long. Her new album Hurricanes and Forget Me Nots is available on iTunes and her first music video for the single “La Di Da” debuted on February 3rd.

Laura Mihalka

Laura Mihalka

Mother and wife, Laura happens to be a great musical talent, too. With bedroom eyes and a textile voice, she has the fun tunes like “Las Vegas: Do It Right” and the girls out on the town having fun. She brings out a little attitude with a song like “Man With a Gun,” and will strike the voice from you to just listen with a track like “Typical For Love.” I hear a sprinkling of Cardigans and Natalie Merchant in a song like “Slipped Away” and that is high praise. I miss that kind of girl rock when the likes of Ke$ha and Katy Perry are the models from which young girls draw their guidance; there is no place for that music and shallow creativity when you compare it to a skilled guitar player and cellist like Laura. She makes her home in Ventura so you can see her around and can even hear some of her handiwork on Delaney’s album as she is responsible for some of the musical accompaniment and arrangement. Her new album Spell of the Light Pink Pearl is available on iTunes.

Amy Arani

Amy Arani

Talk about a ridiculous talent. An achingly powerful voice that plays across octaves like monkey bars, she captivates with consonance and dissonance and draws her music from a seemingly raw and deep place. A knock out on a piano with a voice like hers can blow the doors off of any room she feels like playing. Sarah McLachlan, some Tori Amos, and a fine serving of Regina Spektor comes together with a dash of that something Amy has got to align for something special.

She is clearly comfortable on stage and in her performance seems to go to that place in her life that her music might take you in hers. She has some attitude in her songs along with heartbreak, but she sings with a weight and soul that will take her performing far beyond the Ventura County limits. “Fault Line,” was by far a favorite but she played other tunes that bounced a bit and she seemed to just skip along without a care on the piano as if the music came so naturally. I had never heard her before, but now she is on my sort list of things to clear my evening for the next time she plays; and you should, too.

This is but a sampling of some of the talent being refined and honed in and around LA County in the Singer/Songwriter category. These are the girls you come to when you feel like a drink and a friendly musical shoulder. These are the talents that give you the honesty and brash realness that can resonate with you day in and day out. They won’t tell you to drop it like it’s hot or slap that ass, and they won’t try to make it rain. ‘This’ isn’t ‘that’, and thank God. ‘This’ is music stripped of the glitz, the glamour, the pyrotechnics and set extras. ‘This’ is a tryst between you and a performer in a small venue somewhere where you can make eye contact with everyone else. These women have got the chops and, well, ‘that’ doesn’t. So, when you’re in the kind of mood where you just wanna hear something that cuts right to the heart of it, now you’ve got just a few more options to choose from.

About the Author

Wesley Bauman, author of Doggy Paddling in the Deep End, is a writer/photojournalist originally from Oregon who makes his home in Ventura, CA. He is currently a contributor for the VCReporter and maintains an active blog (http://www.wesleybauman.wordpress.com/) where he writes on political and social satire regularly.

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