- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 10, 2002

"I kiss them and then go to work," says Bethesda resident Annie Sidley of her three young children. Work is the Annie Sidley Band, which brings its R&B; funk to Washington's Annapolis Grill Saturday night.
Miss Sidley, a soulful soprano, has been a professional singer for 15 or 20 years. Most of that career, including opening for such acts as WAR and Chuck Brown, has been spent with her "partner in music and life" Steve Sidley (he's the band's bassist).
"I liked pop and country more growing up, but I really found my voice when I started listening to Aretha Franklin and James Brown," Miss Sidley says. These days she listens to Jill Scott and Lauryn Hill. She says she's not a soul singer, though, but a "singer that just sings with feeling and passion."
"I would say that I am pop. I'm more adult contemporary now just because my audience is 25 and up."
Vocally, Miss Sidley does jump a few boundaries on her second self-released album, "History." But what's most satisfying about "History" isn't her vocal strength but that she rarely expends it on diva-esque gymnastics that overpower the songs or the band.
The opening songs such as "Come To Me" have supportive, comforting lyrics like "I wish you joy and I wish you strength." On that song she uses a clear soprano but easily switches to a lower register on "Photograph" and provides her own cooing call-and-response backup vocals.
Strength during abandonment outlines later songs such as "History" and "No More." "I wrote a lot within a two-week period," she says. "Things were hard between my husband and I then."
But not all the songs are autobiographical, Miss Sidley says.
Although her husband gets extremely funky onstage (as he did in their show Aug. 5 at the Kennedy Center), he writes Broadway-style torch songs such as "More Than Love."
The album's sparse instrumentation points to the band's solo-filled live shows. During the three sets at the Grill, expect to hear a lot of "History," plus Aretha Franklin's "Natural Woman" and other covers. ("I'll throw them a bone every once in a while," she promises.)
Her big message to Washingtonians: "You guys need to stay out later and support local music." Just be sure to put the youngsters to bed first.

"We thought, 'That's the song that'll make us,'" says Lucky Town singer Courtney Criswell of their ultra-catchy "Dirty Shoes." They'll perform that and other songs tonight in an "unplugged" show at Whitlow's on Wilson in Arlington.
There's not much wrong with "Shoes" or the rest of their third album, "Anyway I'm Fine" except the timing: The band released it shortly before the September 11 attacks.
The Virginia Beach-based group has sold more than 10,000 albums since forming in 1998, largely on the strength of Miss Criswell's nuanced voice and stage charisma, merged with bassist and keyboardist Bob McNaughton's pop song craft.
A 28-minute pop concept album, "Fine" details a woman whose self-confidence is broken but who finds it again after dumping her cheating (musician) boyfriend. By phone from a Newport News hotel room, Miss Criswell suggests, "You can always break it down like that. You know what I mean?"
She says the songs are based on the band's experiences (including her own past onstage worries) and those of other people. But young women will still easily relate.
"Shoes" opens with garbage-can drums and high-hat from Kevin Kriner to get the feet moving, then a two-note riff from Wendell Johnson's guitar to hook you. It screams "radio-friendly single" and begs to be on a WB show's soundtrack.
On "Shoes" Miss Criswell almost breaks into an Alanis-like shriek but then acrobatically coos and moans on "Better" to win your sympathy. (For the record, she calls the twangy Patty Griffin an influence, rather than Alanis Morissette.)
By "Happy Ending" she's burned out, delivering words like "You were tricky, but oh, I believed" in a disaffected Lou Reed voice. But this sad stuff is all still pop: Just keep bobbing your head during "Blowing Kisses"; the pain will be over in four minutes or so.
She's recovered by the exuberant "All of You and Me" as she tells him to "Get over yourself." The happier mood comes with Gary Numan-style keyboards and a retro riff Rick Springfield or the Shoes would have appreciated.
Lucky Town also plays a "plugged" show during Clarendon Day, Arlington's town party, Oct. 19. The Whitlow show (to include a cover of "Sounds of Silence") will be "stripped down," Miss Criswell says, "but we'd call it unplugged and not acoustic, as there'll be some electricity in there somewhere."
Got that right.


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