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Review: Sophie Barker and Tiny Messengers at the Tractor

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Sophie Barker image by Tom Mohrman

Sophie Barker (Zero 7, Groove Armada) concluded her tour of the United States Saturday May 6th at the Tractor Tavern. You could tell by how they performed that this final show carried with it as much bitter as sweet. Opening for her was Tiny Messengers, a folk/alt country Seattle band led by Kimo Muraki. Muraki and Barker both have formidable vocal talents. The songs went deep, and it was a good ride.

Tiny Messengers started with Muraki alone, just him a guitar. He sang a song standing on the dance floor in front of the stage to get the audience’s attention. Then he got on stage and out came the rest of the band. With the bass, the lap steel, and the drums added to the mix Tiny Messengers felt a little bigger, and a lot more layered.

Tiny Messengers image by Tom Mohrman

Seeing Tiny Messengers allows the opportunity to appreciate Muraki’s ample vocal range. When he performs with Surrealized, or Slow Bunny (two of Muraki’s other bands), it’s much more falsetto and upper register that he uses. This evening’s performance revealed his full vocal range. It’s hard to say how many octaves are represented, but it’s more than most. You’d do well to put Tiny Messengers on your “to see” list. Next up was Sophie Barker.

There is a lot of breath in Barker’s voice. It’s sultry, and she takes full advantage of her alto range. She can go big, but you dance with the one that brought ya. For her, that’s down-tempo music. What’s so intoxicating about her singing is the pain implied with every note. There’s sweetness, but underneath it’s pain. That, and a bit of Fleetwood Mac.

Barker traveled with two other musicians for this tour, a guitarist and a violinist. When Barker was also playing guitar it was a lot of music for three people to be making. The violin added a lot of character to the music, and it was all about Barker’s singing. That said, you could feel the absence of the drums. It was clear that there was a bit of a frustrated Janis Joplin in her that couldn’t come out without drums.

The three were having fun on stage, and so was the audience. There was an adolescent quality to how Barker’s knees bobbed forward and backward. It was almost dancing, and then it was all the way dancing. Though the songs were mostly downtempo there was a lot of energy. When they played Zero 7’s ‘In the Waiting Line’ there was a lot of response from the audience, but all of the songs drew applause.

The next day the three traveled first to LA, then the UK. Hopefully they come back to the States before too long. An America with Sophie Barker in it is a better place.