Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Music Seen: Marie Moreshead + Ellen Tipper at Blue, January 28

Published in the Portland Phoenix

The dual CD-release party for Ellen Tipper's The Juggler and Marie Moreshead's self-titled full-length album was a stripped-down affair, which was a relief because Blue was packed to the gills.

Tipper opened with her keyboard folk, playing several songs based on her experiences spending time in other countries (Vietnam and England among them). She proved a mellow mood-setter for Moreshead's soulful guitar-based ballads.

The pair of duets they sang — one from each's album — showed the stylistic contrast between the two. When backing Tipper's song, Moreshead seemed to handle the literal story-telling lyrics awkwardly, as if missing the metaphors that season her work so richly. When playing Moreshead, Tipper's fingers flowed more smoothly than when her keyboard was center stage.

Despite a few technical problems (ably handled by semi-official roadie Pat and honorary roadie Drew), Moreshead's performance was strong and smooth, and well received by the standing-room-only house. (Her first show at Blue, a few years back, was in front of her mother and just one other person, Moreshead announced.)

Her words are often happy, but then laid over spare, sad melodies. In some ways it's an inversion of the work of 10,000 Maniacs, which told horrific stories in catchy riffs. And the deep, twangy edge in Moreshead's vocals also evokes Natalie Merchant (with perhaps a sprinkling of Erin McKeown). But whether set up that way or aligned on a single emotional axis, as in "Romans" and the brand-new "Secrets of the Bluebird," her songs really shone.