- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2008

It’s easy to forget that Ingrid Michaelson is an independent artist. Record labels have courted the songwriter since 2006, when her mix of coffeehouse folk and brainy pop/rock first found its way onto prime-time television. Episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “One Tree Hill” began showcasing her music, while Old Navy chose one of her acoustic love songs, “The Way I Am,” to orchestrate a series of clothing commercials.

One year later, Miss Michaelson is still calling her own shots.

Of course, taking the independent route has saddled the songwriter with increased responsibilities. She released her debut album “Girls and Boys” on her own dime. When the initial pressing of 1,000 copies sold out, she founded her own label and issued a beefed-up, remastered version in 2007. Lacking the financial support of a major label, she also worked several day jobs to make ends meet.

“My first job out of college was working at a coffeehouse,” Miss Michaelson remembers, “which overlapped with my job at a restaurant, which overlapped with working at an acting school for kids. That last job lasted until the end, when I had to quit in order to pursue music. That was a year and a half ago.”

Buoyed by the rising popularity of “Girls and Boys,” Miss Michaelson left New York and took up residence on the road. She aligned herself with the Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles, toured the country alongside the Dave Matthews Band and traveled Europe with Jason Mraz. In the meantime, Old Navy and “Grey’s Anatomy” helped promote her music to an audience that didn’t necessarily attend concerts.

Miss Michaelson’s wide-ranging appeal isn’t difficult to understand. With her slight vibrato and flair for piano ballads, she’s reminiscent of a witty, bespectacled Norah Jones. Meanwhile, her unexpected chord progressions and brainy lyrics reveal a love for Regina Spektor and Fiona Apple. Such music may sound appropriate for playback in your local Starbucks, but they’re just as likely to be heard emanating from the dorm rooms of literature majors and music students.

Likewise, aspiring entrepreneurs can also find something to love about the business-minded songwriter, who still issues material on her own Cabin 24 label.

“Cabin 24’s name was inspired by a picture I took,” Miss Michaelson explains. “There was a cabin with a lake in the background, and it looked very rustic and earthy. I thought that was a good vibe for my own record label because it summed up what I was trying to do, [which was] really organic work that wasn’t forced.”

Like all things organic, Miss Michaelson’s work has grown since the release of “Girls and Boys.”

Her live shows are much different than they once were, now encompassing a wealth of new material that the songwriter honed over two years of performances. Much of that material comprises her newest release, a lengthy EP titled “Be OK.”

“The reasons for doing the EP were twofold,” Miss Michaelson explains. “I’d been playing a lot of covers and new songs at my shows, and people wanted that material.”

She had also aligned herself with an organization called Stand Up to Cancer, whose mission inspired her to donate to charity. Accordingly, she funneled B-sides, live performances, covers and unreleased tunes into “Be OK,” whose proceeds benefit the cancer organization.

“It’s just a fun appetizer for my upcoming record and a chance to give money to charity,” she says, emphasizing that “Be OK” should not be considered a full album.

“People are confused; they don’t understand why my new record has so many old songs and covers. I guess that’s what you get for putting 11 songs on an EP.”

Miss Michaelson recently played several dates on the traveling Hotel Cafe Tour, which also featured such Riffs alumnae as Priscilla Ahn, Rachael Yamagata and Meiko. She’ll spend the rest of 2008 on the road, playing a string of headlining shows in America and Germany (where she recently signed a record deal, thus ending her independence in that country) before concluding the year with three holiday performances at home.

“It’s a lot of work,” she concedes, “but what else would I be doing?”

Catch Miss Michaelson on Tuesday when she visits the Birchmere in Alexandria. Newton Faulkner and David Ford will also perform. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $25.

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