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September 17, 2004 Current Issue: September 16, 2004

Three muses

Katy Davidson, Cynthia Nelson and Cubby Berk gather for an intimate evening of song at the Zeitgeist Gallery

Cubby Berk
Cubby Berk

One marvels about mountains. Another peers off into outer space and gardens. A third draws inspiration from a departed doctor of music. Despite their different muses, all find release in introspection and dreamy abstraction.

On Thursday, September 23, these three singers-songwriters - Katy Davidson, Cynthia Nelson and Cubby Berk - come together for an all ages, acoustic set at the Zeitgeist Gallery in Cambridge.

Each musician comes to the Zeitgeist holding new material. Nelson, the poet and seasoned rocker from Retsin who has toured with Sara Jaffe from Erase Errata, brings her latest solo project, "The Sophie Drinker Record." Drinker was a 1940's feminist musicologist. Jamaica Plain-based Berk and her studio band, Lovers, recently released, "The Gutter and the Garden," another beautiful arsenal of songs that showcases Berk's gift for transcendence and grace as well as lyrics that harness the power of blunt emotional confessions. The recording follows Lovers' well-received "Star Lit Sunken Ship," which includes Berk's lasting audience favorite "Winter Takes a Lover."

By far, the most stripped down of the musicians is Katy Davidson, of Dear Nora, who comes to Cambridge with "Mountain Rock." At first glance, the CD invites comparison to John Denver or a folky strumming her guitar at the Newport Folk Festival. But Davidson says she's more "Cat Power than Cris Williamson."

I had a chance to quickly talk with Davidson after she stayed up late catching a Prince show in San Jose, California. When asked about the recording's title, she explained, "I'm almost poking fun at classic rock but I'm also being serious."

All told, Davidson's CD marks a sincere ode to nature. After all, she wrote it while hanging out at her mom's house in the Arizona desert, which sits at the base of a mountain. Besides being on a nature trip, she describes the recording as representing a "life cycle." The first track, "the lonesome border, pt.1" has Davidson finger-picking her guitar, producing a pretty, classical sounding arrangement while singing, "I know it's going to be a strange time/It can't possibly be any stranger than the present." More than breakups or heartache, time and place make up most of the recording's themes. Indeed, if Davidson does have any love songs on "Mountain Rock," then they are dedicated to bears, moonlight and stars. The life cycle ends with Davidson seeking "truth" with a playful call of "come with me" on the gloomy titled yet happy and buoyant-sounding, "suicide song."

Like the first, the other songs are mostly Davidson's voice accompanied by chords on a guitar or piano. Throughout, simple, subtle lyrics capture an acceptance of life's eternally Big Questions: "the solution: it darts and it weaves/it comes and it leaves." Still, the songwriter has her bag of tricks. One, she alternates songs with brief instrumental tracks that seem to draw on a variety of eastern and western influences. Then, either fearing or despising redundancy, she stops her songs very unexpectedly. All are roughly two minutes long and end as abruptly as a haiku.

Though Davidson lacks an expansive vocal range, she makes up for it by matching complicated, melodic guitar layers that show off an understanding of melody and sentiment. It should be a cool, intimate effect to hear her nature trip bounce off the walls at the cozy Zeitgeist.

Presented by Truth Serum Productions, Cynthia Nelson, Dear Nora and Cubby Berk play at the Zeigeist Gallery, 1353 Cambridge Street, Inman Square, Cambridge on Thursday September 23. At 9 p.m. Admission $7. All ages.

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