Theater of voices 

Newsom, Myshkin strike vocal chords

It’s a week full of distinctive female voices on the live music scene, Missoula. Don’t miss Joanna Newsom, the 22-year-old harpist opening for the Incredible String Band on Wednesday, Oct. 13. Newsom’s voice is about as disarmingly transparent as voices come: She sounds like Björk as a little girl, playing house with stuffed animals and doing all the speaking parts herself. Also like a crazy old lady doing Billie Holiday impressions. Newsom’s deft harp playing only adds to the twilight eeriness of the sound. Marvelous.

Before then, though, you’ll want to pencil Myshkin’s Ruby Warblers into your folk calendar for Friday, Oct. 8. The Portland-based chanteuse has a sad, smoky tomboy alto that seeps into every eclectic crevice of her 2002 release, Rosebud Bullets, and we’re talking about a lot of crevices, here: torchy jazz, low-key country, double-time conjunto hustle, loose-knit klezmer, everything and the kitchen sink. Celtic, Gypsy and Middle Eastern inflections abound—on “Scarecrow” and “Unearthed” the singer sounds part muezzin, calling plaintively from a minor-key minaret—and she leaps from genre to genre with feline agility.

Yet for all that, Rosebud Bullets is no shopping list of world music condiments. A lot of musicians talk a lot of big game about incorporating these and similar disparate elements into their music; Myshkin doesn’t so much incorporate as retrofit them, judiciously trimming them of extra fins and flippers and posing them to fit snugly alongside her voice. She doesn’t shy away from tricky time signatures and sudden lunges from one style to another, either. Myshkin’s knottiest songs also have the most startling vocals. She also plays her own guitar(s)—acoustic, electric and tenor—as well as the mandolin.

Lyrically, Myshkin is the rare folkie who actually deserves the distinction of poet. She’s kinda coffeehouse, sure, but more of the tougher Budapest or Bratislava variety—the smoke-filled kind with tiny cups and grounds at the bottom, not the jumbo-half-decaf-mocha-with-hazelnut variety where, even as you read this, gallons of ink are drying on the trite journal entries that will become the folk songs of tomorrow.

A New Orleans resident for most of the past decade, Myshkin relocated to Portland in 2003, following a separation from her husband of seven years, Rosebud producer Mike West. The last proper song on the album, “Northern Coast” seems to presage the move west. Portland’s cool, rainy climate should prove fertile ground for Myshkin’s shade-loving music, and what better place than the City of Roses for a ruby warbler shooting Rosebud Bullets?

Myshkin’s Ruby Warblers play the Other Side on Friday, Oct. 8, at 8 PM.

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