June 17, 2011 in Features

Brownlee heads home to play the Rockin’ B

Teams with cohort Psaros for a pair of local shows
By The Spokesman-Review
 
If you go

Olivia Brownlee

and Jay Psaros

When/where: Friday, 7:30 p.m., Jacklin Arts & Cultural Center, 405 William St., Post Falls; June 26, 4 p.m., Rockin’ B Ranch, 3912 N. Idaho Road, Liberty Lake (100 yards south of Interstate 90 at Exit 299).

Cost: $10 at the door for each show (food and drinks available for purchase).

More information: Jacklin, (208) 457-8950, www.thejacklincenter.org; Rockin’ B, (509) 891-9016, www.rockinbranch.com.

Olivia Brownlee’s original plan was to teach English in Korea.

But after she moved from Liberty Lake to the East Coast for graduate school, her casual curiosity led to a place called Medieval Manor and a career in music.

“I was riding my bike to school and I went by this place and I had to check it out,” Brownlee said.

As it turns out, Medieval Manor is Boston’s long-running, Renaissance-themed musical comedy dinner theater.

“The first two people I met, I was like, ‘I want a job here,’ ” she said in a phone intervew. “Fifteen minutes later I ended up auditioning on the spot, looking like a mess, but they hired me.”

Medieval Manor had a Christmas party open jam and when Brownlee decided to grab her concertina and join, she fell in with co-worker Jay Psaros. The two have since become musical cohorts touring across the country.

They’re arriving in a homecoming of sorts for Brownlee for shows tonight at the Jacklin Arts & Cultural Center in Post Falls, and June 26 at her old stomping grounds, The Rockin’ B Ranch in Liberty Lake.

The duo also will do the pre-show for the regular Rockin’ B cowboy supper show next Friday.

Brownlee grew up performing at the Rockin’ B, which is owned by her parents, Scott and Pamela Brownlee. In 2008, she self-released “Eponymous” – singing and playing guitar, banjo, accordion and piano on the album – before relocating to Emerson College in Boston, where she received her Master of Arts in Theatre Education.

Both multi-instrumentalists, Brownlee and Psaros back each other up on tour during each other’s solo sets, allowing Brownlee to lend her vocal power to Psaros’ bluegrass pop, and his guitar prowess to her rootsy jazz Americana.

In May, Psaros independently released his sophomore album, “On up the Road,” which was released within a year of his debut, “Tripping and Running.”

While Brownlee is a schooled musician who is steeped in theory and mechanics, Psaros has a self-taught background that is both intuitive and inventive. 

Yet she tends to be more whimsical in her music, and free-spirited about life in general, while Psaros has a business-minded focus that adds a factor of sustainability and groundedness to the mix.

For his new album, Psaros paid close attention to the song-crafting, going for a more commercially accessible sound without compromising artistic integrity.

“I’m not trying to be anything but myself, but I’m also trying to write in a format that people can relate to,” he said by telephone.

“I don’t think anyone wants to sell out, but it’s important to make a living as an artist and in some way you have to cater to people so they can support what you’re doing.”

Like Brownlee, Psaros plays nearly all of the instruments on his albums, including auxiliary percussion, bass, keyboard, banjo, and acoustic and electric guitars.

Onstage, both retain a sparse sound that relies on strong songwriting, deft musicianship and lyrical wit.

“If a song can’t stand alone acoustically, chances are it’s not going to go over well with the full band arrangement,” Psaros said.

Added Brownlee: “I write a lot of jazz-style stuff that leaves room for instrumental breaks and while I’m playing rhythm chords, Jay is able to jump in there and fill it in with something different that keeps the audience engaged.”

After touring around the country and breaking into Boston’s folk scene, Brownlee said it’s validating for her to be on the East Coast and being liked by complete strangers 3,000 miles from home.

But she’s looking forward to coming back, spending time with her parents and taking some downtime to sip tea and relax before heading to the next leg of her tour in Alaska.

“I’ll be playing for friends and family who have known me since I was 2,” Brownlee said. “People who are supportive and who will be loving what I’m doing because I’m doing something that is true to myself. And they could care less if I’m good or not.”


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