WASHINGTON, September 6, 2013 — The promotional material for Serena Ryder’s recent, show-opening performance for One Republic at Wolf Trap began by noting she was once referred to as the “teenage Aretha Franklin.” That was an odd statement to see in print for a number of reasons, most obviously because the moment she began to perform, it became apparent that her music, while bearing a faint Aretha Franklin aura, is actually quite different.
Maybe there’s not much point in dwelling on a bit of copy in Wolf Trap adverts and program material. But the Wolf Trap audience is probably more inclined to read artist bios before and during their performance than audiences at other venues. In this case, the verbiage sets the audience up for the kind of performance that Ryder isn’t necessarily going to provide. While the Franklin comparison may have been true at one point, it actually did a disservice to the energetic live show she put on to warm up the crowd at Wolf Trap.
Fortunately, Serena Ryder gives off the confident aura of someone who shrugs off expectations. At the age of the 30, she’s already been playing music for the better part of two decades. By the time she was 17, she had already recorded her first independently released full-length album Falling Out of Place. When seeing her perform live on stage, it’s clear that she loves playing before a real audience. But there’s also certain savvy and kinetic about her performance that distances both the performer and her art from all the hoopla and hyperbole. She’s most likely heard it and dismissed it all before.
She makes references throughout her set about growing in a small town in Ontario and traveling to slightly bigger locales for the first time, which gives the audience a sense of who she is, given that in this part of North American she is a relative unknown. Her outsider status gives allows her to play around a bit more. It also opens her set up to revolve her around the new material on her upcoming album Harmony, which won’t be released until late August.
The basic foundation of her sound is rooted in folk rock, though she probably could’ve gotten away with playing a straight acoustic kick. Her vocals prove strong enough and carry a heartfelt bluesy quality. That said, though, after an acoustic number, she’ll add an electric punch to other music in her set to vary the mood. While her music remains strongly in the category of folk, the addition of upbeat electronics allows her output to achieve considerable variety and range.
This varied musical approach emphasizes her strongest qualities as a singer/songwriter. There’s a natural simplicity to her songwriting. But it’s always personable, and her voice carried so well at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center that tuning in to her subtler moments was sometimes an afterthought.
Ryder’s set was only about 25 minutes long. Even so, it was long enough for her to get the audience excited for the upcoming acts while creating her own connection to the audience through an eclectic, high-energy approach that became infectious with every song she performed.
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