Singer Caught the Right Ear and Landed At the Top of iTunes

By Chris Richards
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, September 29, 2007

Eric Hutchinson never flashed his unmentionables while crawling out of a limo, but he's still all over

The Takoma Park-raised singer-songwriter, whose tunes evoke a young Billy Joel, is the latest obsession of Mario Lavandeira -- the gossip blogger better known as Perez. "Our tastes don't always tend to be mainstream, but we think Eric Hutchinson has the potential to be huge!" Lavandeira gushed on his site after discovering the 27-year-old singer earlier this month.

Says Hutchinson: "In between 'Heath Ledger's divorce' and 'Britney Spears is fat' -- it's nice to be up there."

Nice? Try totally awesome.

After Perez's endorsement, on Sept. 5, Hutchinson's self-released album "Sounds Like This" catapulted into the iTunes Top 10, putting him in the company of Kanye West and Kenny Chesney. One week and 4,500 copies later, the unsigned singer had peaked at No. 5, making the snarky star-basher who exalted him look like a formidable starmaker. Inevitably, record labels came calling.

"I almost couldn't believe it," Lavandeira says of the situation. "I felt like a proud parent. Not every [artist] that I post gets the amazing reaction that he did."

Lavandeira first heard about Hutchinson when the singer's friend sent the blogger a link to some tunes on MySpace."Obsessed" with the music, Lavandeira posted Hutchinson's picture, a few streaming MP3s, lots of exclamation points and a link to iTunes. One day after his nod had launched Hutchinson into the limelight, Lavandeira gloated on his site, "Guess you guys agreed with us, Eric Hutchinson is awesome."

The singer wouldn't go that far. The T-shirts he was peddling at a sold-out gig at Jammin' Java in Vienna last Sunday demurred in all caps: "ERIC HUTCHINSON IS PRETTY GOOD."

Until recently, "pretty good" was a pretty apt description of the aspiring musician's career. He got his start playing in bands at Blair High School in Silver Spring, and after Emerson College in Boston he headed to Los Angeles to chase his dream -- and a record deal. He scored one with Maverick, but was dropped in 2006 when the label went kaput.

"They had to buy me out of my contract," Hutchinson explains, "so I turned around and used that money to finance this album and release it myself."

The best songs of his Jammin' Java set come from "Sounds Like This" -- a disc bubbling with zippy, affable blue-eyed soul. (Think M&M&M: John Mayer, Jason Mraz, Maroon 5).

Sporting a cardigan and tousled blond hair, Hutchinson is undeniably charismatic, splitting his time between keyboard and guitar, crooning about stormy romances and everyday struggles. The performance feels almost wholesome, despite the ironic self-deprecation between tunes. "This song is always best when you listen to it," he jokes in hopes of shushing some audience chit-chat.

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