I’ve been fairly fortunate of late in my trips to Corner Coffee over in Minneapolis’ Warehouse District, coming across some pretty strong talent. Most recently, going in to play a set early this winter, guitarist Bill Travers and I were getting our gear together off stage when we heard an outfit that was just lighting joint up. It turned out to be one marvelously gifted singer-songwriter Melissa Oakvik backed up by a very tight band.
The sound was sort of a cross between soft-rock and R&B with some real fluid singing, phrasing that shot pretty much from the hip, tones sensually shaded with such authority that when I snuck out to take a peak, I had a hard time reconciling what I saw to what I heard. Sitting in the back with Bill—actually “off-stage” is hallway between office suites—I imagined the vocalist to be in maybe her 30s with a hard-bit look to her expression, vocalizing to the wizened from a place of bittersweet experience. Or something like. Little did I expect to see some cheery, fresh-faced youngster. But, sure enough, Melissa Oavik, in her early 20s (I think she said 23), was up there effortlessly killing in cold blood like it was lunch. I pulled my jaw off the floor, closed my mouth and went back in the hall to listen some more. “Bill,” I said, “you ain’t believe you’re gonna see out there. You got guitar picks older than that kid.” After taking a long, he didn’t say anything about who was younger, her or his picks, but we both agreed, she has chops.
That was my introduction to remarkable artist. Yours may as well be her recording debut Peace of Mind, a four-song EP that, for my money, should’ve been longer—but, then, of course, it wasn’t my money being spent in the studio. “Upside Down” is exactly what I’m talking about, strutting the kind of locked in the pocket, chicken-scratch funk you’d expect to hear coming out of Stax/Volt, not McNally Smith College of Music. The liner notes don’t say who’s singing the duet “Peace of Mind” with Oakvik but, whoever the guy is, he went to the same school of soulful ballad vocals as Aaron Cosgrove of The New Congress, sounds a lot like him in fact. Her writing has range, shifting to “Quarter for Your Time,” a beautiful tune country as bluegrass, itself, with someone (also unidentified) taking off a splendid turn at fiddle. Melissa Oavik’s voice has, on all the songs, a rich, clear ring to it and a distinct, highly enjoyable quality.
The project was recorded at McNally Smith with Oakvik on piano, backed by Bill Hart (organ), Oscar Reyes (acoustic guitar), Trevor Wiest (electric guitar), Sam Vanorny (drums) and Arthur “L.A.” Buckner (drums) with vocalists CJ Pitts, Brooke Colby, Taylor Moell and Channing Himes. You’re going to enjoy it. Even if you’re not as surprised as I was a Corner Coffee—I guess you had to be there.