- The Washington Times - Friday, December 11, 2009

Earlier this year, Bess Rogers passed one of the music world’s most treasured rites of passage: She quit her day job.

“I had been teaching guitar lessons for years,” explains the Brooklyn-based musician, who splits her time between a burgeoning solo career and a lucrative stint as Ingrid Michaelson’s guitarist. “It was getting to the point where I’d be on tour so much that my students’ parents were getting mad at me. I wasn’t able to be a steady teacher anymore, so I was forced to stop doing it.

“I think it was the best decision I’ve ever made,” she adds. “I threw myself into being a full-time musician. I knew I had to make enough money to survive, and so far, it’s worked out. Between touring with other people and touring on my own, I’m somehow able to run with it.”

Miss Rogers attributes part of that success to her close-knit social group, which includes a handful of music majors from her alma mater, the State University of New York at Purchase.

“That’s where I met most of the people I currently work with,” she says of the performing arts college, whose graduates also include Regina Spektor, Moby and recent Riffs alum Langhorne Slim.

“I met my producer, Dan Romer, at SUNY. I met [fellow songwriter] Jenny Owen Youngs there. I met my fiance there. We were all surrounded by good music and good people, and I think we learned from that. We grew with each other.”

Earlier this year, Miss Rogers demonstrated her own growth by releasing “Travel Back,” an extended-play recording of homespun pop songs. Ukulele, acoustic guitar, hand claps and harmonies decorate the softer songs, while amplified riffs and percussion fuel the upbeat “Bulldozer.”

Released in April, the EP has enabled her to showcase her own songwriting despite a heavy touring schedule with Miss Michaelson, who also released an album this year.

Touring with a Top 40 artist, Miss Rogers says, has been “very educational.”

“I joined Ingrid’s band right when things started to get crazy,” she explains. “It’s been a learning experience, seeing the whole thing happen. Ingrid is very great with her audience, and you get to experience all of that without the pressure.”

Buoyed by radio singles such as “The Way I Am” and “Maybe,” Miss Michaelson and her band have maintained a healthy presence on the road for two years. The group has toured alongside Jason Mraz, opened shows for the Dave Matthews Band and performed at some of the nation’s largest venues. A 2010 tour is in the works.

“I’m sort of on the road all the time,” Miss Rogers says, noting that she books her own shows whenever she’s not traveling with other artists.

“We’ll play big shows with Ingrid, and then I’ll come to New York and play shows that are tiny in comparison. But I think it’s good. It’s humbling, and it gives you something to strive for.”

Bess Rogers will visit DC9 on Thursday for an acoustic performance. Julian Velard and Jonah Smith also will perform. Tickets for the 8:30 p.m. show are $10.

Top unheard LPs of 2009

Although headquartered in metropolitan Richmond, Exebelle & the Rusted Cavalcade brew up a rural sound inspired by folk, country and Southern rock. The band’s lineup took shape in 2007 and includes three songwriters, all of whom cut their teeth in local rock groups before joining the project.

Taking a page from Ryan Adams — another country-loving Southern boy with deep ties to rock ‘n’ roll — the group released three EPs in 2009 alone, including the wonderful “Antipoison Creek Sessions” and the upcoming “Vivement l’automne!”

“It’s definitely our most ambitious release yet,” guitarist Philip Heesen says of the latter album, whose title was inspired by a French blog that recently championed the band’s music.

Songwriters seem to have multiplied in the digital age, when anyone with access to a guitar and cheap computer software can record an album. Lissie, a Midwestern transplant living in Southern California, stands out from the pack with her atmospheric folk songs. Her most recent release, “Why You Runnin’,” finds the songwriter moving from torch-song balladry to lively, foot-stomping tempos, although her voice shines brightest on the slower numbers. She also updates a Hank Williams classic, “Wedding Bells,” by changing the chords and penning her own bridge, proving that vintage folk songs still have a place in modern music.

As a member of the Miniature Tigers, Rick Alvin Schaier plays whimsical, breezy pop music. He occupies a different role — the only role, in fact — in his side project, the Alvin Band. Using nothing more than his own vocals, the drummer creates a cappella symphonies by layering harmony upon harmony, with some studio effects adding a contemporary spin to the material.

He steers clear of barbershop territory on his debut album, “Mantis Preying,” preferring instead to create instrument-free indie rock aimed at fans of Animal Collective and Panda Bear.

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