The first thing you notice is that voice: deep and rich and warm, gorgeous, graceful, and somehow earthy and ethereal at once. It is an instrument perfectly pitched and primed to each line, with each audible breath. Just as warm and familiar and frankly right as the needle hitting the groove on vinyl.
And so it goes. In describing the vocal talents of Eugene-based singer/songwriter Halie Loren, the adjectives just start piling up. Heartfelt is one. Confident yet vulnerable, strong but inviting. Authentic is another adjective that rushes to mind—emotionally authentic, which, really, is the key to great jazz and great art in general. Not the play-it-safe jazz of Kenny G or the narcoleptic whispers of mall-bound Musak, but the real deal. Think Peggy Lee and Billie Holiday and Joni Mitchell, or, more recently, Diana Krall, Norah Jones. But such comparisons are only historic reference points, a means of entry. What’s important to understand is that when Halie Loren sings, you not only hear the music. You feel it. She’s right there, in the room with you, filling the space with intimate stories of love and heartbreak, memory and hope, experience and passion—in a word, life.
Were Loren’s resume to end here, with her vocal talents, it would be more than enough. Singing of that quality is rare, a gift. But Loren is no mere interpreter of standards (though she does that with refreshing facility). Having cut her songwriting teeth when, as a teenager, she spent an educational year rubbing elbows with some of Nashville’s top composers, this young artist—she is but 25—has penned original numbers that are stunning for the depth and maturity the show. Take, for instance, the title song from her 2008 release, They Oughta Write a Song: in a bittersweet croon that is equal parts hurt and healing, Loren delivers lines like, “If there were prizes for those sighs of regret/you’d be the envy of the oh-woe-is-me set/romance is through/it’s just the piper and you…”
Yeah, that’s the stuff—the blues, clever with pain, a sentimental journey hardened into sad-happy wisdom. Loren, as the saying goes, knows her way around a song, whether it be a composition of her own or one of her surprising and always dead-on covers. Witness the way her ingenious arrangement (composed with frequent collaborator, pianist Matt Treder) turns a radio-overplayed ballad like Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” into something utterly new and unexpectedly affecting, or check out the swinging upbeats and jaunty phrasing that gets the foot tapping to “Dock on the Bay,” without once betraying the spirit of Otis Redding’s masterpiece. Loren’s choice and performance of standards—from “Summertime” and “God Bless the Child” to “Blue Skies” and “La Vie en Rose”—is exquisite and respectful and inventive, another sign of her artistic intelligence.
In a relatively brief span of time, Loren appears to have achieved enough success and received enough kudos to define an entire career. Since her stage debut at the age of ten at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp in Alaska, Loren has continued to wow and woo audiences with her warm, intimate live performances; she is an elegant, electrifying performer, full of charisma and cool. And she has garnered more than her share of in-the-know acknowledgement, both critical and professional: from the Female Rising Star and Alternative Entertainer awards she won before she was 16, to later awards from such worthies as Billboard International and the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, up to her most current award for "Best Vocal Jazz Album" at the 2009 Just Plain Folks music awards.
Loren’s debut release, Full Circle (2006), was hailed for exhibiting “a power and grace that are nearly unheard of in popular music.” And along with last year’s acclaimed They Oughta Write a Song, Loren (accompanied by Treder) also released Many Times, Many Ways, a delightful collection of holiday songs that would melt the heart of the most tone-deaf Scrooge.
Still, for all she has already accomplished, it is what lies ahead that should truly thrill any fan of Loren’s music. This past year found her characteristically elevating her craft, getting better with each live performance, each newly written song or recorded work. At present she is planning a live album to be released in January 2010, as well as a recording project that will fuse her unique songwriting chops with her deep roots in jazz, and which Loren says will be something altogether different from any of her previous albums. It is just this willingness to explore new avenues of creativity—combined with her inexhaustible drive and inimitable talents—that gives one the feeling that Loren is on the verge of setting the wide music world on fire. It’s only a matter of time.