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Roots & Americana

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Western Washington ain't exactly the Dust Bowl or the Painted Desert, what with all the precipitation and foliage. Regardless, something about the music of local Sera Cahoone conjures up a vibe that's a little bit The Grapes of Wrath, a little bit The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Her arrangements and vocal performances display astute economy, throwing her lyrics and melodies into sharp, almost exaggerated relief, like long afternoon shadows.

In the Sounds Like column on her Myspace page, the 29-year-old singer/songwriter modestly posts: "who knows—hopefully something decent." After a few listens to her songs, names like Gillian Welch, Jolie Holland, and Cat Power spring to mind. Yet Cahoone, who plays at the Rendezvous on Friday, November 11, as part of the ROCKRGRL conference, admits to being a gradual bloomer apropos of delving into roots music.

"My mother listened to everything from Patsy Cline to Dolly Parton to Fleetwood Mac," she notes of her formative years. "But then I rented Coal Miner's Daughter about five years ago. I haven't been the same since discovering Loretta Lynn." For confirmation, check out the confrontational stance of "Long Highway" (there's a mp3 of it up at www.seracahoone.com), wherein she quietly insists, "Don't tell me lies/for once tell me what's on your mind."

Up to now, Cahoone has been best known around town as a drummer. She kept time in sorely missed Carissa's Wierd, and has also played with Panda and Angel. Most of the songs featured on her forthcoming disc were written after coming off a pair of tours drumming for another artist, Los Angeles troubadour Patrick Park. "I had just gotten back, after driving all over the U.S. and listening to lots of old country. I had a lot of time to myself, and all these songs just spewed out of me. That really surprised me, because usually it takes me forever even to finish one."

The influence of her primary instrument is audible in her compositions, even when percussion is minimal. "I was a drummer long before I ever started writing songs on the guitar. All of my songs start with a rhythm, and then I add to that. Words usually come last." The driving "Last Time," with its rapidly brushed snares, is a prime example of this process. "When I wrote that song, I had a fast-moving rhythm in my head," and it formed a foundation for the rest of the ditty.

The years with Carissa's Wierd also shaped her songwriting aesthetic. "They are all such amazing musicians," she reflects, "and I learned the importance of the subtle quiet details within a song from them."

To decide for yourself, you'll have to catch Cahoone live or visit her in cyberspace. And, hopefully, her record will be in stores soon, as her label shopping is turning up some promising prospects: "I have had a few hopeful responses, but I am keeping my mouth shut for now." Well, okay... just so long as she opens it to sing sometimes.

kurt@thestranger.com

 

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