Sometimes the best discoveries are the ones you weren’t expecting to make.
Early in September, I found myself at a show I would never have gone to on my own, listening to an artist I likely never would have discovered if left to my own devices. But because an evening out in the middle of the week sounded like a nice idea, and because I thought accompanying my husband to this show was the companionable thing to do, I ended up having an out-of-my-usual-genre experience that enlightened and delighted me.
The venue in question was a tiny little space that reminded me of the basements of the kind of houses I grew up in — not quite a real room, and furnished with some still-comfy but shabby pieces of furniture that your parents put down there when they got new stuff; in short, a nice place to hang out with your friends and listen to music.
And that’s how I came to learn of this week’s featured band, who isn’t really a band at all (although she sometimes plays in one), but a talented singer-songwriter named Naomi Sommers. I was expecting a pleasant evening of music – and I got that – but what I also got was knocked over by some of the best original songwriting I’ve heard in some time.
Singing in a clear and lovely voice, Naomi performs a mix of traditional music and her own intelligent and deeply felt compositions, and her modest stage presence is suffused with warmth and humor. With deep roots in the folk and bluegrass traditions, the added influences of blues and jazz combine to give her sound a feel that's both contemporary and timeless.
Born in Washington, D.C. and mostly raised in Connecticut, Naomi grew up surrounded by music. At the time of her birth, her father Phil Rosenthal, an accomplished musician and songwriter, was the lead singer and guitarist in the renowned bluegrass group, the Seldom Scene. It was with the Seldom Scene and folk singer Jonathan Edwards that Naomi made her performing debut at the age of six. Rosenthal went on to found American Melody, a record label that specializes in family-oriented bluegrass and folk music. Naomi’s mother, Beth Sommers, is also a musician, and the family performs together as the Sommers-Rosenthal Family Band (along with Naomi’s brother Daniel and various guest artists).
An accomplished musician as well as singer, Naomi plays guitar, mandolin, and banjo. It’s not difficult to see how growing up in such a rich musical environment would give rise to the artist that she is today. On her MySpace page, she lists her musical influences; not surprisingly, Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie are on the list, and they’re in the company of such artists as Bonnie Raitt, Johnny Cash, k.d. lang, Emmylou Harris, and Dolly Parton, among others.
Naomi has released two solo albums, Flying Through (2001), and Hypnotized (2004). In addition to her solo work, Naomi also performs as a duo called the Gray Sky Girls with fellow New England singer-songwriter Lisa Bastoni. The two have just released their first album together (The Gray Sky Girls, 2006) and describe their music as old-time country slowgrass. Naomi also performs with guitarist Noam Weinstein as a duo called Broken Dreamers.
Currently residing in western Massachusetts, Naomi tours throughout New England and beyond. She was a Kerrville Folk Festival New Folk finalist in 2004 and is bringing her music to an ever-growing audience. Visit her MySpace page for tour dates and a chance to hear some songs. It would be well worth your time to catch a show. Check back here next week when I’ll be reviewing Naomi’s solo albums and the Gray Sky Girls’ new CD.