With its diverse sonic-sensibilities, the Capital Region’s music community is on the rise.
“I think everyone is harkening back to understanding the value of community and local talent,” said Arielle O’Keefe, a local musician known as Girl Blue.
She’s part of the line-up at The Linda’s “Siren Songs” show on Saturday, along with Belle-Skinner and Zan & the Winter Folk. Led by female artists, the three bands offer up a range of styles, from dreamy to more in-the-pocket folk, which complement one another.
O’Keefe, who is well-known for lyrics that make one lean in and listen, fits somewhere in the middle of that sonic range. Growing up on Long Island and then in Dallas, Texas, she started playing piano and guitar from a young age. It eventually drew her to New York City to work in the music industry, writing for other musicians and writing some of her own music.
But it wasn’t until she moved up to Albany in 2014 and that Girl Blue and her new musical identity began.
“I had been making music under my own name previously, but I started fresh [with] Girl Blue,” O’Keefe said.
The name was partially inspired by Nina Simone’s album “Little Girl Blue” and partially by Stevie Wonder’s song called “Girl Blue.”
“They’re both sort of about the same character; a female that should be happy but just isn’t or can’t be. I really related to that character,” O’Keefe said.
Under the new name, things got to a roaring start with the release of “Fire Under Water” and other singles that made it to Spotify’s New Music Friday. The single was also used in a Las Vegas tourism commercial. Spotify later picked up her cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” which eventually led to Stevie Nicks approval of her cover and of the music video, which was created by Troy’s Chromoscope Pictures.
O’Keefe is flourishing both locally and nationally, working with local talent, like those at Chromoscope Pictures and bands like Dark Honey to record her own music, but getting her music out on a more nationally focused platform.
“It’s nice because, in the past, I would write things but I really had no immediate way to create a finished product, so a lot of things would sit and fester,” O’Keefe said.
Now, working with Jimi Woodul and Dan DeKalb of Dark Honey, she’s able to record and create her music shortly after she writes it and release it via Spotify and other platforms.
With the success of Girl Blue, O’Keefe has toured frequently over the last few years, really building an audience. It’s changed her songwriting process, making her want to create more and more diverse music and to not be afraid to release tracks that aren’t necessarily perfect. She’s working on a full-length album, which she’s hoping to release later this year, as well as a live solo album which will be released in June.
O’Keefe credits her success to the musical community that she’s found in the Capital Region, a community she wasn’t really able to find in New York City.
“I’ve found a lot of people in my community that are so talented and want to do the same things I want to do, that want to support the community and also reach beyond. I think that’s the only way to make it work nowadays,” O’Keefe said.
One of those talented people happens to be Zan Strumfeld of Zan & the Winter Folk. Strumfeld has a different musical sensibility, but just as powerful an execution as O’Keefe. Her voice can do more than carry a tune. It’s got a sweet steadiness that draws one in, complete with lilting melodies and harmonies that offer a reprieve from the harried pace of the day.
The Troy-based artist was working on and off as a musician for several years, releasing solo albums like “Book of Belonging.” But in 2017, she joined with band members Mike Jenkins, Michael Gregg and Will Brown to form “the Winter Folk.”
“I’ve always thought of my music as ‘winter folk’,” Strumfeld said, “It’s feeling warm in a very cold setting.”
That’s certainly clear on “Your Girl No More,” an EP the band released in 2018. It’s a sound that was met with praise from Nippertown and The Alt, which named Zan & the Winter Folk Best Folk band of 2018.
Working with a full-band has further fuelled Strumfeld’s songwriting – the band’s already recorded a second EP, called “How to Be Alone,” which will be released in the coming months.
“I want to impress the people that I’m playing with, I respect what they think and I need them to like the music just as much as I do,” Strumfeld said, “I think what’s really cool about the musicians that I play with is that they can take something that’s very raw and bring it to life in different ways.”
While she’s the main songwriter of the band, Strumfeld said she’s been able to write collaboratively with the band members, who build on the chord progressions and melodies.
Together, they’ve played shows all across the Capital Region and toured in several other states and Strumfeld said it seems like there’s something building within the local music scene.
It helps that it includes people like O’Keefe and Maria Brosgol, otherwise known as Belle-Skinner. Brosgol, whose influences oscillate between French chansons and Russian folk, is also on the “Siren Songs” line-up. Though she goes back and forth between New York City and upstate New York, artists like O’Keefe and Strumfeld consider her part of the Capital Region’s musical community.
While Saturday’s “Siren Songs,” won’t be the first time the three artists have played together–they all played a show at Superior Merchandise in Troy last year–it’ll be the first time they’ve have played together with full bands. According to Strumfeld, The Linda is one of the best venues in the region for the “Siren Songs” line-up.
“The sound is unbelievable, the space is intimate and there’s nothing like having a good listening room,” Strumfeld said.
SIREN SONGS: Girl Blue, Zan & the Winter Folk and Bell Skinner
WHEN: 8 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Sat.
WHERE: The Linda, 339 Central Ave., Albany
TICKETS: $12 in advance, $15 at the door
MORE INFO: thelinda.org