When Gavra Lynn was a kid, her family doctor jotted down a note about her that she still remembers. "Odd voice," it said.
"I have a tape of myself from when I was 5," the singer noted following a recent show at Broadways. "It's like Demi Moore."
Lynn's eponymous seven-song CD, recorded last year at Collapseable Studios, showcases the oddity of her singing if not the complexity of her voice. Vocally, the album offers a kind of tainted grandeur -- a '60s-girl-group breathiness muted by mild nasal drone. Imagine the sound of bubble gum soaked in tequila, coming through an old transistor radio.
But live, with her voice free of studio effects, you really hear the bottom end, the rich huskiness and throaty growl that translate into something no longer just odd, but truly, deeply sexy.
It's often said that Lynn's singing is an acquired taste, largely because her voice is its own frame of reference -- the more you listen to it, the better it gets. She doesn't hit every note, adding a touch more alt to her country.
You can't accuse her of being a great vocalist. But she's one hell of a cool singer.
Lynn's voice and music tend to coalesce best on slower songs, where her songwriter's tendency toward dramatic -- sometimes violent -- imagery adds an air of spooky Americana-noire, as if Nick Cave were being channeled through vintage Cowboy Junkies.
"You want to kill me," goes a recurring line from "Bloodspill," one of her two plasma-titled songs. "I'll be home tonight."
Neat stuff #1
• As a girl, Lynn loved Sesame Street. And Star Trek's Capt. Kirk. Her father pretended to be Mr. Spock. "My dad had big ears," she explains.
• Lynn was in the Brownies. "No, really!" she insists.
Peaks and valleys
After only a few years in Asheville's trenches, Lynn is regarded as one of this town's old guard. Her age -- she's recently 35 -- accounts for some of that, since the Lexington Avenue scene where she hangs her cowboy hat is typified by audiences closer in age to Lynn's daughter (Samantha, 12) than to the singer herself.
But it probably has even more to do with the fact that the top-dog local bands that were here when she started -- The Blue Rags, The Merle -- have since imploded. Ex-members of both have periodically stepped in as part of Lynn's revolving-door backing band, typically billed as The Cropdusters.
The Broadways version of The Cropdusters felt, more often than not, like the pickup band it was. The rhythm section was all over the map, the beat a frequent casualty. But Lynn's singing prevailed, with J.P. Delanoye's slide and Aaron Price's accordion highlighting her voice's unique valleys and peaks, like the mountains she's chosen for home.
Neat stuff #2
• There are only about seven states Lynn has never visited.
• Peoria, Ill., gave the world Dan Fogelberg. Also, Richard Pryor, whose half-brother used to play basketball with Lynn.
Lynn hails from a small Midwestern town -- "population 1,000," she says -- outside Peoria. She went to college on a basketball scholarship (she played point and wing guard), since then attending five other schools, she notes, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she studied art, as she'd wanted to all along.
She called Chapel Hill home from 1992 until moving to WNC on Nov. 11, 1996 -- she recalls the date instantly.
"I moved to Asheville to turn myself into a musician," Lynn explains. "It just felt like a free attitude [here], a free environment. And I had a little drive that it was gonna be somewhere, and I wanted to be a part of it."
She hasn't been disappointed. The town is making its mark with a lot of forms of music, including the roots-driven variety, she notes.
"And for me, the epicenter is Vincent's Ear."
Lynn now lives next door to the Lexington Avenue gathering spot. She's there in her typically mid-afternoon mornings for coffee, and at night for shows -- her own, of course, but also many others. She's one of the biggest supporters of her adopted home's own music.
"I believe in Asheville," she declares.
Neat stuff #3
• Lynn plays a black-graphite guitar -- "No wood at all," she notes -- the neck inlaid with tiny mother-of-pearl sharks.
• She likes to chase shots of Irish whisky with Pabst Blue Ribbon.
So much about Lynn seems to carry the weight of symbol; yet the moment you go trying to decipher her, you run up against this: She's one complicated chick singer.
At her recent Broadways gig, she sported a jersey with the number 72, for legendary Chicago Bears running back/defensive tackle William "Refrigerator" Perry. That one's easy: Lynn has lately been dividing her time between Asheville and the Windy City, where she's getting a lot of gigs (she's booked another week of shows there next month).
She wore, too, a black leather cowboy hat, which warrants no discussion: It looks fabulous. But coupled with her five-sided-star belt buckle and encircled five-sided-star tattoo, the tough Old West sheriff persona was complete -- no?