- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2009

Erin McCarley’s debut album was released earlier this month, but the affable songwriter already is adhering to a frenzied schedule.

“I’ve been up for 30 minutes and haven’t had coffee yet,” she apologizes from her home in Nashville, Tenn. “We spent the past few days doing promotional stuff in Minneapolis, where it was negative 18 degrees. It was like playing in a winter wonderland. Now I’m back in Tennessee for one day, and I leave for another tour tomorrow.”

Miss McCarley’s jet-setting journey was launched several years ago. Raised in Garland, Texas, she relocated to San Diego after college and began writing music in earnest, taking inspiration from the likes of Fiona Apple and Patty Griffin. She also made friends with Jamie Kenney, a producer who took the budding songbird under his wing. Together, the duo carved out a lush, emotional sound that highlighted Miss McCarley’s wide-ranging voice.

Recording sessions for “Love, Save the Empty” took nearly two years to complete. Miss McCarley moved to Nashville during the process, although a steady touring ethic kept her on the road often. Following a successful performance at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, last year, she signed a contract with Universal Republic Records.

“We’re having so much fun right now,” she says effervescently. “We worked for two years on this. We didn’t have a label or management when the record was done. Then everybody jumped on board once they heard the project, and it’s pretty exciting that people are now able to hear the album. I know musicians do this stuff every day, but I didn’t realize the exhilaration of it. Releasing an album is like watching your kid go off to school - you just hope people treat it well.”

As for touring, Miss McCarley has yet to tire of the process. “I’m new to the road,” she explains, “so it’s been easy for me. I haven’t seen any of these cities. We do most of our driving at night, so when you wake up, you peek your head out of the bus, and it’s like you’re looking at a new playground every morning. I do a lot of exploring.”

Exploring Miss McCarley’s sound is similarly easy. The album’s uplifting title track can be heard in the trailer for “He’s Just Not That Into You,” which hits movie theaters the day after Miss McCarley’s Feb. 5 show at the 9:30 Club. Additional songs can be heard in television shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy,” which used the ballad “Pitter-Pat” to close out an episode last year.

“Most of these songs were a process to make,” Miss McCarley says. “I’d write the verse and then get stuck laboring over the chorus. It was a slow, meandering thing, but “Pitter-Pat” came fast and was finished in one sitting. It’s probably one of my favorite songs on the album.”

Miss McCarley visits the 9:30 Club (815 V St. NW) Feb. 5, opening for headliner James Morrison. Doors for the sold-out show open at 7 p.m.

Lykke Li

While some listeners have trouble pronouncing Lykke Li’s name (hint: It rhymes with “chickadee”), others find it more difficult to categorize her music. The Swedish native claims a diverse array of influences, from Madonna’s dance-floor pop to the Velvet Underground’s experimental swagger. Further diversity can be found in her debut album, “Youth Novels,” which features a blend of harpsichord, theremin, saxophone solos, string arrangements, electronic percussion and delicate vocals.

If “Youth Novels” sounds utterly unorthodox to Western ears, consider Miss Li’s equally unorthodox childhood. Born in southern Sweden, she spent several years in Stockholm before moving to Portugal, where she lived atop a Portuguese mountain with her parents. During the cold winters, the family would decamp to Nepal or India. Vacations were frequent, including an inspirational trek to Morocco and a brief stint in New York City.

“I’ve been everywhere,” she states firmly, “except South America.”

“Youth Novels” bears the evidence of Miss Li’s multicultural upbringing. Although rooted in pop music, the songs rarely confine themselves to pop’s standard conventions, instead replacing those rules with a style that’s simultaneously bewildering and endearing. Debut albums are rarely so uniquely offbeat.

Following the album’s release in January 2008, the 22-year-old singer launched a lengthy international tour. “I have to be kind of bored and alone if I want to write music,” she explains. “That’s probably why I haven’t written much recently, because there are too many things going on. I’m never home and don’t have time to do things. There have been a few days off, but no long breaks.”

Miss Li will continue the tour by bringing her pop-music collages to the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue on Saturday. Wildbirds & Peacedrums, another Swedish act , is slated to open the show. “They are an amazing jazz duo, and they’re going to guest me on some songs,” Miss Li says.

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