- The Washington Times - Friday, January 1, 2010

Like many musicians, Elliott Yamin spends most of his time in Los Angeles. He moved to the city in late 2006, hoping to follow his third-place finish on “American Idol” with a long, healthy career.

Mr. Yamin was once a Virginia resident, though, having lived in Richmond throughout his teenage years and early 20s. It was in Richmond that he first caught the music bug, and the city provided him with his first opportunities as a vocalist.

“There was a guy named Reggie Henderson who owned Laurel Barbershop,” Mr. Yamin recalls, “and he was one of the first people to get me into a recording studio. There was also a jazz band called Big Pat & Legion, and I’d sing jazz tunes and old-school R&B with them.”

Singing, however, was never a structured thing for Mr. Yamin. He didn’t take vocal lessons, and a brief stint in middle-school chorus had more to do with the females in class than the music itself.

“I went to All-County,” he says, referencing the selective group culled from the county’s best vocalists. “But I just joined chorus because all the hot girls were doing it. I’d be in the back row lip-syncing, not really singing for real.”

By the time he graced TV screens nationwide as an “American Idol” finalist, Mr. Yamin had given up the lip-syncing routine. In its place was a raw, soulful croon influenced by Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway. Another soul singer, Taylor Hicks, ultimately won the competition, but Mr. Yamin wasted little time launching a career.

Charity work and touring commitments have kept the singer busy over the past three years, but he plans on returning to the recording studio in 2010. He’ll tour the East Coast first, though, and promises to deliver “an acoustic show with a cool twist.”

As for the location of his first 2010 performance, Mr. Yamin says he couldn’t be happier with the Birchmere.

“There’s so much love and support there,” he enthuses. “When I’d go to concerts as a kid, I always wanted to be that guy onstage. It’s great to be able to come home and do that. My friends and family will be there, and it always feels like a big party before and after the show. These shows will always have a special place in my heart.”

Elliott Yamin visits the Birchmere with Matt Brodeur on Saturday. Tickets are $29.50 and doors open at 7:30 p.m.

Lissie makes D.C. debut

The past year was a busy one for Lissie. She wrote songs in London, recorded them in North Carolina and toured America with fellow songwriter Ray La-Montagne. She also released a critically acclaimed EP, “Why You Runnin’,” which highlighted her powerhouse vocals and lush, twangy approach to folk music.

“Things were going pretty much nonstop,” she says as she reflects during a brief moment of rest in Ojai, Calif., her adopted hometown.

After taking several days off during the holidays, Lissie will resume the pace that brought her so much buzz last year. She’ll do so with the assistance of a guitarist and bass player, marking her first full tour with a band.

“I was always playing solo. Even when I’d open for other bands, I’d be my own entity,” she says, while discussing her previous tours. “The headliners would go off after the show to do their own thing, so I’d be on my own to find a cab, find a place to stay and get to the next city. It seemed more like work than fun. It’s still work now, but my band can share those things together.”

Lissie wasn’t always a road-seasoned songwriter, and she hasn’t called California home for long. She’s a Midwestern resident at heart — a native of Rock Island, Ill. — and her music reflects the blue-collar Americana of her childhood. Now that she lives 2,000 miles away, the area holds even more sway over her songs.

“Traveling is good for writing because it puts me out of my comfort zone, and that always stirs up bittersweet feelings,” she explains. “Being someplace like London where the weather is so gloomy … a city like that makes me go to a more still place inside myself, a place where I’m able to concentrate and really get at the feeling I’m trying to capture. I’m only good at writing if I feel it.”

With several publications touting “Why You Runnin’” as one of 2009’s best records, Lissie looks forward to making 2010 even more successful.

“All my life, people told me that I needed a backup plan. They said, ‘Music is a good dream, but you need a real job.’ I don’t need to be Lady Gaga or anything, but it’s validating to know that I can do what I love for a living. I’m glad my talent doesn’t only exist in my own head.”

Lissie visits the 9:30 Club on Thursday to open for City and Colour. Tickets start at $10 and doors open at 7 p.m.

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