Toby Lightman is an embodiment of the adage big things come in small packages. Standing about 5 feet and weighing about 100 pounds, give or take five, Lightman is nonetheless a vocal powerhouse whose recently announced show at the Birchmere is a testament to her rapidly rising star. The New Jersey woman's debut CD, "Little Things" (Lava/Atlantic Records), arrived in March, but a rapid string of club tours supporting such acts as Howie Day, Josh Kelly and Gavin DeGraw, plus appearances on David Letterman, Conan O'Brien and Carson Daly, have given the singer-songwriter plenty of opportunity to show off her original, soulful rock songs and major-league pipes.
The CD's first single, a Middle Eastern-inflected survivor's anthem called "Angels and Devils," gained a comfy berth on radio and MTV and segues nicely alongside tracks by Sheryl Crow, Alicia Keyes and Lauryn Hill, performers with whom Lightman has been compared. A new single, "Real Love," is a clever reworking of Mary J. Blige's 1992 classic and a concert favorite that was not included on the initial release of "Little Things," although it has been added to more recent pressings. (The label is offering fans who have older CDs a free copy of the single through her Web site: www.tobylightman.com.
Compared to Lightman's gale force, Ari Hest's acoustic rock style might be considered more of a bracing breeze, the kind that fuels a long car ride with the windows down and the radio turned up. Hest is no stranger to these parts, having played frequently in local clubs, where he has built a following that stretches to his native Bronx. His well-crafted songs have a storyteller's flair. After a few independent releases, it seems fitting that Hest's new major-label debut, "Someone to Tell," should appear on Columbia Records, home to influences such as Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel.
Although Hest has opened on bigger stages for Guster, O.A.R. and Jason Mraz, it will be nice for loyal local fans to have him at the Birchmere, where his engaging live approach can flourish in the intimate atmosphere. And, after years of booking and promoting his own shows and nurturing a nationwide fan base online (check out www.arihest.com), Hest can finally leave the heavy lifting to others and concentrate on the music.
-- MARIANNE MEYER
The Birchmere is at 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria. General admission tickets for seated tables are $15 and are available through www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 703-551-SEAT. Tickets can also be purchased in person at the box office from 5 to 9 p.m. on show days. For more information, call 703-549-7500 or visit www.birchmere.com.
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