Maryleigh Roohan gives raw, laid-back performance at The Cabin

Featured artist flexes strong vocals and soulful songwriting during Saturday’s performance


Photo by Gabe Lagarde

Guitarist Jen Trani, left, and Maryleigh Roohan play in tandem during an impromptu jam session in the first set. Roohan described her partnership with Trani as a friendly game of one upmanship where both musicians benefited.

There’s little that separates performers from the audience in the close confines of the The Cabin.

During MaryLeigh Roohan’s performance Saturday, what little separation there was vanished the moment the guitar strings were first strummed.

For Josh Stringer, a senior kinesiology student, and Naomi Hobbs, a senior Spanish linguistics student, Roohan’s performance was especially intimate. Roohan joked and interacted with the audience throughout the course of the evening and, between sets, casually invited anyone who was interested to sit down and talk with her face to face.

During the performance and afterward, Stringer and Hobbs could be seen sitting close to the stage, taking the experience in.

“She’s always great live. I love how she talks to the audience, she’s very conversational,” Stringer said. “I’ve seen a lot of concerts and they don’t even say a word to the audience. You’re better off buying the CD. With her, she always engages. She always wants to make you laugh and smile.”

The singer from Troy, New York, who was joined on stage by tour guitarist Jen Trani, performed songs from her records “Skin and Bone” and “Living Alone,” with a few covers sprinkled throughout.

While Roohan’s style draws from a number of influences ranging from jazz to folk to indie-pop, the two performers settled for a stripped-down, rockier sound for the show.

The eclecticism of Roohan’s music has led it to be deemed Americana on more than one occasion, although the singer herself hesitated to adopt the label.

“I feel it’s an easy stamp to put on something,” she said. “People say, ‘Oh, so you’re like Mumford and Sons?’ Well, they’re not even American, but they get lumped into this folk-rocky (genre).”

Another suggested term is “dark indie soul,” one that Trani felt was more appropriate for describing Roohan’s oeuvre.

Ultimately, whether it was guitar rifts or any other kind of instrumentation, it would have taken a backseat to what is possibly Roohan’s transcendent qualities: her songwriting and the voice through which she conveyed it.

Hobbs said the performance added a depth to Roohan’s act, one that left a lasting impression.

“It was haunting” she said. “When you see it here live you can see what the music really means to her. It adds another layer to it for me.”

She explored themes of love, vulnerability and personal loss in a distinctly full, mature voice. Roohan showed deft control of her voice and a staying power that enabled her to shift from soft crooning to a belting crescendo and back again, mid-verse, with ease.

The tone of her music was confessional, as if Roohan was speaking the words directly to someone and, by her own admission, much of her content is derived from people she’s known and experiences she’s had.

The autobiographical nature of the lyrics are blunt, which Roohan said give her songs a honest, darker feel or “visceral emotion that comes through in a performance.”

“I tend to write from a very emotional place that for the past five years has, honestly, been colored by a lot of negativity,” Roohan said. “That’s where the darkness comes from. I’ve really tried to put myself when I’m performing a song in a place where I can express myself freely.”

This, in turn, stems from what Roohan said is an unorthodox means of confronting her own personal issues and connecting with others on a personal level.

“Songwriting for me is one of the only outlets where I can really express myself,” she said. “For the most part, I’m very happy-go-lucky, sarcastic and kind of a goofball and I don’t feel comfortable opening up to people in an intimate, conversational way.”

Roohan said she plans to take a break from solo work and rejoin her other project, a four-person “grungy” band called Candy Ambulance.

Her two full-length albums and EP can be found on iTunes and Spotify.