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May 6, 2008

Sparks flies at Jenicca’s; Elvis and Amy take the Palace

Tori SparksFriday, May 9Now that all of the out-of-towners have vacated the clubs, we can get back to business as usual. This week’s performance highlights include the legendary genre-jumper Elvis Costello tonight at the Palace Theatre (625 S. Fourth St., 583-4555, $44.50, 8 p.m.); a Saturday evening Pops Orchestra session with songbird Amy Grant (also at the Palace, $37-$87, 8 p.m.) and silver-tongued crooner Johnny Mathis’ Mother’s Day Special (you guessed it, Sunday at the Palace, $67-$77, 8 p.m.). On Friday, there’s a more obscure artist well worth checking out. Nashville’s Tori Sparks holds court at Jenicca’s (636 E. Market St., 457-1487, 8 p.m.). We recently got a few minutes with Sparks.LEO: You recently started your own label. Do you think it is harder than ever now to break through, or has technology made it easier to ply your trade?Tori Sparks: That’s a Catch-22 sort of a question. On one hand, the digital age has made it cheaper and easier to record, book, promote and sell music, which is revolutionary and exciting. At the same time, the market is glutted with music, precisely because it’s become more convenient to put out albums. It’s hard for talent buyers and everyone else on the other side of the desk to differentiate between all these developing acts, because their ears are oversaturated, and their attention spans are short.Between that and the fact that the industry (and the economy overall) are in bad shape, everyone from the labels to the managers to the clubs are incredibly focused on their bottom line. They want to keep their doors open and get an easy sell, period. That’s not the best set of conditions for fostering creativity.LEO: At what age did you become entangled in the world of music, and who were your early influences?TS: I did a lot of theater up through college, played cello and piano when I was a kid. I started playing guitar when I was 13, pretty much on a whim, and found that the guitar resonated — no pun intended — with me in a different way. My early influences would be kind of standard. My tastes really expanded when I went to college and discovered world music, blues, old-school folk and R&B, and all kinds of quirky alternative stuff. New favorites are Iron & Wine, Circus Dog Serenade and Regina Spektor.LEO: You have been compared in the press with the Pretenders, Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt. How would you describe your sound to someone who has never seen you in action?TS: I try to tell people what I think will make sense to them, and will hopefully give them a frame of reference that will make them want to come out to a show. It’s a big compliment to be compared to such great artists and songwriters, but I can’t comfortably put myself on their level — at least, not for another 20 years or so! I’m more likely to say, “People think I sound like Bonnie Raitt, only wackier, maybe mixed with a stand-up comedian,” or something along those lines. I’d say that’s semi-accurate. The live show is fun, even if the music is mostly serious.LEO: Any more television shows to watch for your songs?TS: MTV, Lifetime and the Oxygen Network recently licensed the new album Under This Yellow Sun for use in their programming. “Road Rules,” “The Hills” and some other shows are supposed to feature songs from the album in their upcoming episodes, though we don’t know the specific dates yet.LEO: You’ve shared the stage with Justin Townes Earle. That sounds dangerous! How did you hook up with him? Any plans for a proper collaboration?TS: He’s not that dangerous! Though, maybe I’m supposed to say that he is. I’ll have to ask his publicist. Anyway, I played this cool little place called the Empty Glass (I think) in West Virginia, and it turned out that Justin was also on the bill. I didn’t know who he was, but he was nice, and I liked the music.We got to talking, and in typical Tori fashion, realization slowly dawned as he described his last world tour with his dad. Well, duh. That’s what I get for living in Nashville and not listening to country music!Now, I see him everywhere, in Nashville, at Folk Alliance, at SXSW … we’re usually like ships passing in the night, because we’re both so busy. If he were ever interested in a collaboration, I’d definitely be up for it. I think it would be fun (and would) probably stretch both of our comfort zones. I’m happy he’s doing so well. He deserves it. Contact the writer at leo@leoweekly.com