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Acoustic in the Q.C. 

Local, regional artists showcase their wooden ways

My original thought was that this column would focus on two concerts, four women and their acoustic performances. Then, it turned out, one of them was plugged in, amped up and almost fully electric. Oh, and then a guy got thrown into the mix. So, there's not an overriding theme, but maybe that's the way it should be. Five artists, some similarities, but all unique enough to show the diversity within their genres.

Nikki Talley -- The Asheville Carolina Star winner -- think American Idol with a $10,000 prize and recording contract -- performed for a small crowd at Evening Muse on a triple-bill of women on July 12. Her powerful vocals showed why she had the talent to win the competition as she conjured up a coffee house vibe to the small venue. While there were some moments of uncomfortable banter in between songs, Talley appeared most at ease when singing. She was there in support of her latest release, Telling Lies. While her vocal tone hung in a softer range, there were definite moments of power and even rock. The eerie "Bianca" showed another side.

Brandy Robinson -- Knoxville's Robinson hit the stage barefoot looking like a free-spirited folkie, but the first notes of her performance showed she was strictly business. Funky stylings mixed with her smoky vocals for a bluesy, hipped-up performance. She showed a softer, folk side at times, but her prowess on the guitar mixed with poetic lyrics simply shined. While toned down vocals gave way for her finger-picking to light up the room, she could offer power into words that gave me chills. Her themes of love and heartbreak kept the audience interested as much as her stage presence. I nearly fell off the barstool when Robinson told me she usually tours with a seven-piece band, but a listen to her albums show they only compliment her writing and songs. She expects her next album, The Wine Sessions, to be released in 2008. This was her second time at the Muse and she hopes to return in the near future, possibly with her whole band.

Lindy Dobbins and the Red Velvet Manx -- Charlotte's Lindy Dobbins, who performs on her own acoustically, hit the Muse stage as a trio. Dobbins' vocals were sometimes hidden behind distorted guitar, and I found myself picturing the songs in an acoustic format. It was an odd dichotomy with the previous two acoustic acts, but she stood well on her own. Her smooth vocals showed solid range. One of the songs had Dobbins strumming a 12-string acoustic as the bass and drums offered slight compliments -- almost a folk/jazz trio. For me, that was the highlight of their set. It showcased the song with a professional vibe without being hidden by distortion or lost in the crash of a cymbal. Each time they tried to "kick it up a notch," it gave way to a more indie/amateur sound where they almost lost their personality. The Manx also proved she has some growl during a cover of "Come Together" giving her vocals a necessary edge.

Ben Henry -- Local performer Henry opened up a weekend show at SK Net Cafe on July 14. His performance was a little rough around the edges. He's a talented guitarist that tries to do too much while singing in what results as a modern-day, folk, beat-poet style. His music isn't presented in typical verse-chorus-verse style, opting instead for an unique approach. His set lasted for about 30 minutes, and culminated at the end for a mildly disturbing song entitled, "Murder-Suicide." Henry has talent as a unique lyricist and guitarist, but his songs need work. Of course, I don't think the SK Net's sound system was helping anyone.

Erika Blatnik -- The Q.C.'s Blatnik is gaining quite a reputation around the city as she continues to perform at venues as diverse as the SK Net and The Milestone. While she suffered from the same sound problems as Henry, Blatnik continued performing after breaking a string, and other technical difficulties. You could tell she was shy, but she found moments of humor in between songs, coming across as your average coffeehouse singer with an above average voice. While most songs remained in a mellow comfort zone, she found moments to show power and range in her voice. It was amazing to see a loud, conversational venue with approximately 40 people get quiet as Blatnik's music and voice steered attention toward her. Like Henry, she has a poetic songwriting style, but her words and voice helped to paint a picture in the air, drawing in the audience for nearly 40 minutes. Hopefully, she'll be on the scene -- and in a studio -- for a while.

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