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Thursday, August 16, 2007

CD clearance racks are laden with the failed attempts of actors who fancy themselves musicians (Russell Crowe, Keanu Reeves in Dogstar). But Minnie Driver is different. Even before her cinematic breakthroughs in "Circle of Friends" and "Good Will Hunting," Driver had signed a deal as a recording artist. It just took her a decade or so to release her first CD, 2004's "Everything I've Got in My Pocket." Critics responded with a sigh of relief -- the woman can sing, and she writes fine songs, too.

Driver performed throughout the United States and Europe promoting the CD, including a 30-date tour as opening act for Australia's venerated Finn Brothers, of Split Enz and Crowded House fame. It wasn't a gig for amateurs, and Driver not only survived, she thrived.

Now she's headlining a North American tour in support of her second CD, "Seastories," released July 17 on Zoe/Rounder Records.

In contrast to the somewhat symphonic sound of her debut, this album pulls back to simpler arrangements, revealing a vulnerable tunesmith with the confidence to address her audience directly and emotionally. The 12 original songs won't shatter the mold of the singer-songwriter catalogue, but they do add a new round of sweet lullabies and pleasing soft rock with blues and country accents.

The album's creation was a bicoastal affair -- some tracks were recorded in the British-born singer's adopted home town of Los Angeles with her regular backing outfit, while others were done in New York with the prolific cult rocker Ryan Adams and his band the Cardinals.

It was Adams who contacted Driver to offer his services, resulting in four tracks on "Seastories," including the first single "Beloved," a piano-driven hymn highlighted by Adams's country-style guitar. Guest artist Liz Phair added vocals to the slow-burning track "Sorry Baby."

Driver isn't looking to abandon her acting career -- her Emmy-nominated FX series, "The Riches," is coming back for another season -- but she has proven herself to have a great backup plan for those times when the scripts aren't up to par.

Opener Drew Gibson spent his teen years in Richmond but now lives in Falls Church. True to his local roots, he celebrated the release of his debut CD, "Letterbox," (Cragmont Records) earlier this year with a gig at Vienna's Jammin' Java, joined by his musical pals Paul Curreri, who contributed some backup vocals and second guitar to the CD, and songstress Devon Sproule.

The folk-blues musician cites early Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon as influences, but it's apparent he also counts blues masters such as Son House and Mississippi John Hurt in his list of inspirations.

-- MARIANNE MEYER

The Birchmere is at 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria. Tickets are $20 and are available athttp://www.ticketmaster.comand at the box office on show nights. For information, call 703-549-7500 or visithttp://www.birchmere.com.

E-mail Live! suggestions tomariannemeyer@comcast.net. Please write for the correct mailing address before sending materials.


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