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Swyer Theatre @ The Egg
Albany, NY
March 29, 2007

By J Hunter

It would be both incorrect and insulting to say Sarah Pedinotti is “all grown up now.” The 23-year old Saratoga County native has been navigating the “grown-up” arena for some time, foregoing her last two semesters at Berklee in favor of getting some real-world experience. Since that decision, Pedinotti has become a mainstay on the Capital Region music scene, earning glowing notices from her appearances at last year's Freihofer's and Albany Riverfront jazz festivals.

With that in mind, the woman that stepped on the Swyer stage Thursday night was definitely different from the performer I saw last September at Albany Riverfront. Gone was the look from the promotional poster for this sold-out industry showcase: The short spiky 'do, the geometric-pattern minidress, and the chunky Anita O'Day sunglasses. Pedinotti's curly black hair was shoulder-length, her wardrobe was easy and relaxed, and you could see the brightness and warmth in her eyes as she slid behind her band's creeping groove and began “Empty Home.”

The access to the eyes is the most important change, to my mind. Pedinotti is a storyteller as much as she is a singer, and the expressiveness that radiates from those eyes helped populate characters like the tattooed, mourning brother in “Julio”, the good woman in the bad neighborhood just “Painting the Porch”, the ex-girlfriend who would no be ignored in “My Permission”, and the townies left behind as the jobs went away from “Schenectady.”

The audience got to see Pedinotti's respect for poets like Allan Ginsburg and William Butler Yeats, and they experienced the love she has for the wildlife outside her family's Galway home in “Meadow.” It's impossible to not get drawn into Pedinotti's stories or her performance, and the audience went right along into both; they comped behind her on “Schenectady”, and jumped into call-and-answer on “A Day in the Life of an American Blues” (“The first song I ever wrote,” she informed us) and Bo Diddley's rocking “Who Do You Love.”

Pedinotti has an energy that makes every song crackle, and a joy that is the primary clue to how cool she thinks this gig is. Not that Pedinotti doesn't cop to that: She took time to thank her mom and dad - longtime owners of Saratoga's One Caroline Street - for “(letting) me be weird, too” and allowing her to develop her artistic side.

Another, smaller change was in Pedinotti's overall musical direction, which nowadays is closer to Bruce Cockburn than it is to Anita O'Day. The music at Albany Riverfront was a fine mix of jazz and blues, and both styles were in evidence during Thursday's 90-minutes-plus set; then again, given Pedinotti's skills on blues harp and the presence of the phenomenal Dave Payette (who expertly wove acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes, and Hammond B3 into the mix), there's no way they couldn't be part of the package. However, Pedinotti's newer material - soon to be released on her third self-published CD, City Bird - has more than a little Country influence at its foundation, and Kevin Maul's work on pedal steel and slide dobro made that influence blossom, embossing the set with the same ethereal patina you find in Sacred Steel.

The music executives in attendance had to see they have a lot to work with in the Sarah Pedinotti Band: Superb stories, exceptional musicians, and a magnetic singer-songwriter who can only get better. My hope - and, I think, the hope of the SRO crowd that gave her three standing ovations - is that Pedinotti' finds a label that won't mess with the growth curve that we've been lucky enough to witness. That's the moral of this story: Don't mess with this, because you'll be sorry, and so will we.

J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz programming), Q104 WQBK/Albany, and WSSV/Saratoga. He has also written music and theatre reviews for the Glens Falls Chronicle. He currently resides in Clifton Park.