- The Washington Times - Friday, December 26, 2008

To understand how far Elizabeth & the Catapult have traveled since 2004, look no further than the band’s recent onslaught of upgrades. The trio signed with Verve Records in 2008, bringing an end to the self-financed tours and homemade recordings that previously fueled their career. Elizabeth & the Catapult subsequently won the attention of Mike Mogis, the storied producer behind albums by Bright Eyes, Jenny Lewis and She & Him.

Briefly leaving behind their native New York City, the musicians decamped to Nebraska to record at Mr. Mogis’ studio. They recorded an album’s worth of material at an inspired pace, taking comfort in Omaha’s serenity and their producer’s capability.

“We used to do everything ourselves,”says vocalist Elizabeth Ziman. “We’d record in the bedroom, the bathroom, the basement. There’s a song on our old EP called “My Goodbye,” which is a very serious ballad that we recorded in the basement. We were really, really into the take, but someone flushed a toilet upstairs, and the sound came through the pipes, right in the middle of our performance. I think that’s the version we used for the record. The flushing take.”

Elizabeth & the Catapult are no strangers to humor. The three have a healthy catalog of songs peppered with witty, observant lyrics, an approach they displayed recently on an original holiday tune titled “Christmas With the Jews.” The group’s music, on the other hand, takes root in Miss Ziman’s sturdy vocals and classically trained piano skills. Such a mix of elegance and offbeat quirkiness found the band an audience in New York City, although a lack of funds prevented it from traveling outside of the boroughs.

“We didn’t have a manager, we didn’t have a lawyer, we didn’t have a label, and we didn’t have a producer,” Miss Ziman explains. “We just had an audience, and we did everything we could to make each show in New York as different as we could.”

To an extent, Elizabeth & the Catapult remained content with their independence.

“We prided ourselves for a long time on how we did everything ourselves, and I think that affected how we make music,” Miss Ziman says.

Given the band’s sound - which strikes a balance between Ingrid Michaelson’s smirking pop and Norah Jones’ neo-jazz - it didn’t take long for labels to come knocking. Elizabeth & the Catapult ultimately signed with Verve Records, a respected jazz label with several pop, rock and avant-garde groups on its roster. Miss Ziman is happy to occupy the middle-ground between those genres.

“We’re proud of how different our songs are from each other. You can’t categorize the kind of song that I write,” she says.

Having recorded the bulk of their debut album in three weeks, Elizabeth & the Catapult are ready to launch a new phase in the band’s career - nationwide touring.

“I would hope that the record would come out some time in the spring,” the songwriter concludes. “Let’s all knock on wood together. In the meantime, we’re just going to play shows. It’s always fun to be in New York, but we’re excited to get on the road. It’s time to play.”

• Elizabeth & the Catapult will visit DC9 with the Spring Standards on Saturday. Tickets for the 9 p.m. show are $10.

4 to watch in early ‘09:

Erin McCarley — Having recently cut her teeth on the Hotel Cafe’s fall tour, Erin McCarley is primed for her major-label debut. “Love, Save the Empty” arrives Jan. 6, showcasing the songwriter’s pristine alto vocals and marketable pop/rock craft. Fans of Sheryl Crow, Sara Bareilles and Vanessa Carlton should take note.

Bird and the Bee — The stylish pairing of Inara George and Greg Kurstin resulted in one of 2007’s finest debut albums. The two took a brief break after the album’s release, sidelining their blend of jazz, pop and electronics in favor of tackling separate projects. They eventually reconvened in late 2008 for another round of touring as well as several recording sessions. Scheduled for release Jan. 27, “Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future” marks a growth in the duo’s sound, blending Miss George’s cocktail-hour vocals with her partner’s zany musical concoctions.

Bruce Springsteen — The Boss remained active throughout 2008, but 2009 is shaping up to be one of his busiest years to date. Mr. Springsteen will play the Super Bowl Halftime Show Feb. 1 and launch a tour shortly thereafter, likely taking material from his upcoming record. Molding political lyrics with rock ‘n’ roll anthems, “Working on a Dream” will mark the musician’s 16th studio release.

Miranda Lee Richards — This songbird grew up amid the bohemia of 1970s San Francisco, which fed her adoration for folk ballads and psychedelic rock. “Light of X” mixes those genres with a woozy hand, yielding a number of lilting, echoing gems. Look for the album on Feb. 10 - just in time to combat the winter doldrums with hazy California folk.

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