Susan Werner

Friday, January 17; Focal Point

The current ratio of sensitive singer/songwriters to the general populace just may be at its highest level since James Taylor made national headlines in the early '70s by dumping Joni Mitchell and marrying Carly Simon. Given the sheer number of guitar-strumming troubadours on today's music scene, what makes Susan Werner stand out from the crowd?

Maybe it's her rich, expressive voice, which reflects both her early training as an opera singer and her ability to hit any groove, from jazz scatting to earthy blues and twangy roots rock. There's no doubt Werner has a gift for lyrics: "Misery and Happiness," the tale of a sleazy lounge singer named Misery, showcases its author's wry wit, and "Barbed Wire Boys," which describes the Iowa farmers of Werner's youth as "tough as the busted thumbnails on their weathered hands," is rife with luminous, startling images.

The best endorsement of Werner's talent comes from the musicians who've chosen to work with her. On Werner's 1995 release, Last of the Good Straight Girls, Marshall Crenshaw and Mitchell Froom contributed their considerable expertise. On 2001's New Non-Fiction, she was joined by longtime Johnny Cash bass player Dave Roe, ace Canadian picker Colin Linden and keyboard player Richard Bell, who's played with everyone from Janis Joplin to Bob Dylan. You can decide for yourself what makes Werner so special in the intimate confines of the Focal Point. This is one sensitive singer/songwriter you'll remember for a long, long time.

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