A couple of years ago, around this time of year, I stumbled into the Sunset Tavern, on a halfassed recommendation from a friend, to see Corb Lund. I wasn't working that night; was just there for fun. As such, I'm bad with details and memories, but it was definitely raining outside, and there were definitely about five people in the audience.
Corb was great. I appreciated his rugged grittiness, and just about every song surprised me lyrically in some way. He was charismatic and very Canadian-country, and he held my interest for the entire set. Considering it was midweek and I was working about seven different freelance jobs that year, the fact that I stayed out that late without wanting to nod off was notable in itself.
But it was his opening act who really stunned me.
Zoe Muth was born and raised in Seattle, and she played classic-style country music which came off entirely honest and authentic. Her band was tight as hell, particularly the guitar and pedal steel solos from a guy she introduced as Country Dave. Some of the songs were so damned catchy, I thought they were cover tunes wrested from the deepest annals of the classic country archive. But no. They were Zoe Muth originals.
The next day, I told my editor at SoundNW magazine (which has since merged with CityArts) I thought we needed to put Zoe Muth on the cover of the magazine. Forget that she apparently so far had an audience of less than a dozen. She was good. She deserved to have a big deal made of her work. That I'd been covering roots music in Seattle for a couple of years already and had never even come across her name was one thing; that she was playing shows to little or no audience was just wrong. I'm not going to pretend this has anything to do with her cultivating an audience, but it pleases me to have watched her career and her music grow to where she's getting a little more well-earned attention now.
At any rate, that story about Zoe Muth eventually grew into a story about country and Americana music in the Northwest, and Muth wound up sharing the cover with Brandi Carlile, Sera Cahoone, Star Anna, Laura Gibson, and Shelley Short. All those gals are among my favorite artists, and the work they've since produced is all well worth spending your hard-earned money on. But, two years later, Muth's album remains one of my favorite recordings ever made by a Seattle artist who had yet to get "discovered" outside of that town.
In fact, I was listening to it yesterday as I drove through the hills of West Virginia. It matched the scenery perfectly, and could just as well have been borne of those hills as from the cobblestones of Ballard Ave. I learned from writing that story that Muth has a certain affection for Charlie Louvin and John Prine, and you can hear it clearly in her work. In other words, if you've yet to come across her name, I'd recommend hitting play on this video:
So, I was pleased to discover today that she's just signed with Signature Sounds and has a new album due out in April 2011. If memory serves, she played at least one or two of the songs likely to turn up on that disc at this year's No Depression pre-Festival Hootenanny, which just happened to also be at the Sunset Tavern. Quite a few more people there this time around, though.