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Copyright 2000 The Seattle Times Company
Arts & Entertainment : Friday, August 25, 2000

Club Watch / Tom Scanlon
Kellee Bradley plays to win with her first album

"My mantra this last year," says Mill Creek's Kellee Bradley, "has been 'Can't win if you don't play.' "

Actress-singer-mother Bradley invested money she earned acting in an independent movie ("Leonard Cohen's Afterworld") and a Lottery commercial into the production of her first album. She then hit the road and the phones, playing as many shows and trying to get as much notice as possible.

After performing in New York and a few other East Coast cities, Bradley is back home and just as busy. She has shows at Capitol Hill's Hopvine tonight (8 p.m., $3) and at Madison's Cafe in West Seattle on Saturday (9 p.m., $6), and will perform at Portland's North By Northwest festival at the end of September.

Bradley's music is as hard to pigeonhole as her heritage. She is a little bit Irish, a little bit Native American, a little bit Spanish - "Heinz 57," she says.

Her ethnic diversity is reflected in "The Season," an accomplished, extraordinarily varied album, particularly for a debut effort. "The Heartache Ends" is a spare, beautiful, piano-fueled introspection in the vein of Carole King. "Too Deep" is an upbeat, electric-guitar-driven number with Bradley's voice in rock ranges. On the sexy "1,000 Miles" ("His hands are brown and hard/but they're soft when we love") and the sad "In a Big Way," the music is more twangy, and Bradley sounds country.

The title track, with a Mexican guitar sound, is the tale of a hired hand and a rancher's daughter; the bilingual ballad is in the tradition of Linda Ronstadt, one of Bradley's heroes. The last of the album's 11 songs is "Bold Finian Men," an Irish traditional song, with Bradley's a cappella sounding straight out of Dublin.

That last song is also the only one on "The Season" not written by Bradley. As pretty as her voice is, as a writer she is not afraid to get gritty. "That's How We Are," probably the best-written song on the album, is the story of a dysfunctional family, told in mostly straightforward fashion:

Momma's writing letters to the government again
She gets dressed up to go to the post office
She says Daddy was taken by a UFO
I don't know but he hasn't phoned home

"At shows, people are always coming up to me, (saying) 'Are you OK?' " Bradley says with a laugh. "I'm fine - that's not my mom."

Conversely, "In a Big Way" is quite autobiographical, exploring life in an unnamed small town closely modeled after Junction City, Ore. One teenager gets busted for a bank robbery, another rolls his car out on Prairie Road and dies, girls hang out at the drugstore, hoping to get kissed. "In a small town/things can happen in a big way."

These days, Bradley lives in small town-ish Mill Creek, with her real-estate investor husband and their two children, Connor, 10, and Mackenzie, 8. (Her kids play synthesizer and violin on "That's How We Are.")

A few years ago, Bradley hoped to make acting her career. She had guest roles on "Northern Exposure," as the owner of a dog Janine Turner thought might be her dead boyfriend reincarnated, and "Star Trek: The Next Generation," as an Amazon warrior. After making a go of it in Los Angeles, Bradley returned to the Northwest and decided to concentrate on singing and songwriting.

"I still do it," she says of acting, "but it's in the background. Music has been the most important thing in my life for the last four years."

Croc calendar

The Crocodile Cafe has a big week in store, highlighted by an all-ages show from the revered Idaho indie rock band Built to Spill on Saturday (6 p.m., $12).

Baltimore's SR-71 will play its modern rock/MTV hit "Right Now" and other songs at a low-price, radio-sponsored show at the Croc on Tuesday (9:30 p.m., $1.77).

Heavy rocking Nebula headlines at the Belltown club on Thursday (9:30 p.m., $7). Also on the bill that night is Brotherhood of the Electric, featuring former Soundgarden bass thumper Ben Shepherd and Jack Endino, who produced early Nirvana and many of the other great Seattle grunge records.

In the neighborhood

Sit & Spin, just a few blocks from the Crocodile, features two Seattle veteran bands this weekend. The wonderfully inventive Diamond Fist Werny - influenced by Middle Eastern sounds as well as progressive rock - plays Sit & Spin on Friday, and the recently reunited Ottoman Bigwigs play new wave-y rock on Saturday. Both shows start at 9:30 p.m., $6 cover.

Fast and folky

Ballard's Tractor Tavern has two big shows in the coming days.

Fastball plays the Tractor tonight (9:30, $10). The Austin pop-rock trio likely will play "The Way" and "Fire Escape," both from the 1988 album "All the Pain Money Can Buy," as well as songs from "The Harsh Light of Day," Fastball's soon-to-be-released album.

Folk rocker Matthew Ryan plays from his outstanding second album, "East Autumn Grin," at the Tractor Tavern on Monday (8:30 p.m., $6). Ryan has been compared to the likes of Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen and, yes, Bob Dylan.

Even so, Ryan - a native of Pennsylvania currently living in Nashville - has a style all his own. It should be a terrific show.

Tom Scanlon can be reached at 206-464-3891 or mailto:tscanlon@seattletimes.com.

Copyright 2001 The Seattle Times Company