Good Luck, Kid

A music dork's open letter to Kate Voegele, Cleveland's pop-star-in-waiting.

Rocky River Reservation Joni Mitchell stale dance grooves ProTools fake rootsy glamour MTV clones House of Blues, 308 Euclid Avenue 9:30 p.m., Thursday, May 24, $10-$12, 216-523-2583
Kate Voegele: From granola beauty to cock-and-roll vixen.
Kate Voegele: From granola beauty to cock-and-roll vixen.
Dear Kate,

Thanks for hanging out last Sunday. It meant a lot, considering you had just gotten back from L.A. the night before. You must have been exhausted, seeing as how your mom then had to drive you from your family's house in Bay Village to the Rocky River Reservation. Well, at least we got to enjoy the sunshine while talking about your debut CD and how you ditched Miami University to pursue a career in showbiz.

By the way, I still can't believe you flew out there for an audition in front of Hollywood bigwigs. I know, I know. You're just testing the waters, out of curiosity. As you told me several times, music is -- and always will be -- your no. 1 love. But let's not kid ourselves: With your charm, moxie, and rootsy glamour, you'd be perfect playing a young woman fronting an up-and-coming rock band -- just like Justine Bateman in Satisfaction. Oh wait, that was 1988; you were only two!

Anyway, if you took that role, the reason why it would work -- which is the reason why you should be a pop star -- is because you're a super-talented rock "chick" (your word) -- who actually wields her axe and pens good tunes. This contrasts nicely with that bothersome Avril Lavigne tart, a total faux-rocker. Playing guitar sends the message: Voegele is for real; Voegele ain't some Pro Tools fake. However, this also places a wall between you and a lot of suburban teens who don't get rock and roll, which is the reason why Branch has gone country and Furtado, clubbing. And you know what? It's how you respond to that wall that's going to define you as a musician over the next few years.

Your first response -- Don't Look Away, the album MySpace Records released nationally last Tuesday -- is good, but tepid. Producer Marshall Altman (Marc Broussard, Zebrahead) helped transform the college-circuit folk pop of your previous two EPs into solid mainstream rock with a vaguely classic touch -- kinda like Sheryl Crow, if she wasn't such a hack. But in the end, you played it too safe, failing to set yourself apart from the MTV clones you're competing with.

Now, I'm not saying you should've dumped riffs for stale dance grooves; that got Jewel nowhere. But your talents are too left-of-the-dial for the kind of MOR pap Crow trades in. Stuffing yourself into a prefab mold isn't going to earn you the "really solid fan base" you say you want. Look at Ryan Adams, that alt-country dude you totally worship: Never mind that Adams is one bad haircut away from Richard Marx -- he's cultivated a devoted following because he reaches beyond his limitations as a musician. Think back to when he rewrote the overcooked hippie anthem "Truckin'" or released three records in a span of 12 months. Even if those moves failed commercially and artistically, Adams at least proved he had a pulse -- that he's human.

Of course, the last thing you want to read is advice from a struggling rock critic living in Cleveland -- one who could only dream of maintaining the laser-guided focus you've displayed since you were a precocious teen sharing stages with Mayer and Mellencamp. So I believe you when you say, "I know who I am as an artist. This is the type of music I want to put out there." But I'll take your 20-year-old arrogance with a grain of salt. Trust me, no artist really "knows" herself, and the minute she claims to, that's when growth drives itself into a dead end. Joni Mitchell, another one of your faves, understands this all too well. She may have a confidence built of reinforced titanium, but she also possesses a humility that allows her to keep searching for new sounds and different words.

Store that in the back of your head, and you'll do just fine. Don't Look Away is only your first disc, which means you have a long, long career ahead of you. So go out there and make this grimy little hometown of yours proud.


Music Dork

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