A singer who "tells a story" sounds like a cliché used by publicists -- or bad singing storytellers -- until a songwriter comes along who strings together a tale worth hearing. Rebecca Pronsky knows her way around a metaphor, and though residing in Brooklyn, she sings like she has Nashville in her blood.
"Oscar Song," from Pronsky's 2007 CD Departures and Arrivals, is a good example of her style. Over a bossa nova shuffle, she sings of a failed relationship, casting her and her ex-mate as doomed actors -- she being the one deserving of the award mentioned in the title. The scenario has been used in lyrics before, but Pronsky's original spin on the concept, coupled with her gift for melody, create a memorable song that would add a modern kick to the songbook of a jazz torch singer like Diana Krall or Jane Monheit (although Pronsky's take would still sound better).
Departures and Arrivals contains many of these lyrical flights, and seems divided between moody twang in the first half and slightly more contemporary singer-songwriter fare in the second half. She can easily remind listeners of Neko Case, both in terms of her ability to belt the lyrics and the way she stands out above the sea of thoughtful women with guitars. "Break Even," the album's midway point, has a sprightly melody that overflows with syllables, much like other women on Triple A playlists. Meanwhile, she follows that with "Say It Now," recalling Suzanne Vega's finest moments of understated hooks and stories.
Last year, Pronsky returned with The Best Game in Town, an EP full of twangy guitars echoing from far off on the lonesome highway. The songs follow a tension-and-release set-up much like traditional country music, but her writing and that voice keep them from sounding standard. Rich Bennett, her producer and collaborator, uses his lead-guitar parts to color in the scenes around Pronsky, who plays acoustic guitar throughout. Harmony vocals from Lucy Wainwright Roche (whose name alone connects her to two distinguished families of singers) add to the emotional content of songs like "Big Kid" and "Hard Times."
Pronsky seems the type of singer whose pipes can cut through the background noise at the bar and lure listeners to the stage, where her lyrics sustain interest for a whole set. Find out for yourself Thu., July 8, at Howlers Coyote Café, in Bloomfield.
Rebecca Pronsky with Emily Rodgers and Pete Bush & the Hoi Polloi. 8 p.m. Thu., July 8. Howlers Coyote Café, 4509 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield. 412-682-0320 or www.howlerscoyotecafe.com