Short and self-titled

Debut EPs from Katrina Abramo and Zach Romanoff
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  January 26, 2007

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MAN ABOUT TOWN: Zach Romanoff.
People might debate the artistic and moral value of American Idol as the final rounds approach, but is there anyone on earth who can’t get with the opening round tryouts? Holy crap is that entertaining. For me, it’s all about Randy Jackson. With credits on albums by everyone from Bob Dylan to Boston, he’s got the ultimate street cred and he’s so even-keeled he embarrasses those other clowns by association.

This week, he asked one Seattle contestant, “You do know this is a singing competition, right?”

Exactly.

One of the many great things about music is that anyone can make it. People joke about being tone deaf, but a little practice can usually make anyone a fairly competent rhythm guitar player, percussionist, or bassist for the purposes of having a good time and generally entertaining people. The same goes for vocals, I think. If you pick the right part, stay within your voice’s natural range, and use the proper technique, anyone can sing something passable. But if you neglect even one of those things, the results can be horrifying.

And, luckily for us, really funny. Can these people not hear themselves? Has no one ever told them they sucked before? Why not?

This idea that anyone can sing should not be confused with the idea that good voices are a dime a dozen. Many a decent band can’t get over the hump simply because their singer just isn’t good enough, even if the songs are decent and everybody can play their instruments just fine. It’s about talent and charisma and soul, and the last two can make up plenty for the first but aren’t, in the end, a substitute.

Katrina Abramo and Zach Romanoff, both with debut self-titled EPs out this month, have nothing to worry about on the vocal end.Abramo is the natural of the two, with pipes pure as the proverbial driven snow, a truly impressive new talent in Portland. Romanoff, a guitarist who has Matraya and Stars Look Down on his resume, comes off more polished and studied, but he knows how to sell it. As the son of local folk veteran Steve Romanoff (Turkey Hollow), he’s likely had a life-long education.

 

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HEADING OUT + UP: Katrina Abramo.
This is going to come out badly, but Romanoff actually reminds me a hell of a lot of Jack Wagner (a/k/a Frisco Jones), who wet panties with “All I Need” in 1984 and then returned with a surprisingly not horrible album in 2005. The pop-rock production Romanoff has created with Jon Wyman leaves everything with a soap opera glow, readily apparent in the almost-AM sunniness of “For Real,” which opens his album. If you have a tendency to bury your face in her fur coat when you see your grandma at the holidays, this stuff is for you. When I heard him sing, “You know it’s all I want/Let me see if this love’s for real,” I wondered: is that what he wants, or what he needs.

Romanoff is a romantic along the lines of the Nigel Hall/Ryan McCalmon/Tony McNaboe line I’ve been extolling lately, but he’s more pop than R&B, and his rock background has him relying more on electric guitar fills than piano lines. Plus, he has a tendency to go for the soaring chorus, with horns, say, for an extended climax, more like the Dave Matthews Band than Bill Withers.

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