Standing behind a piano with the lights of Juneau shining through the window behind her, Naomi Hooley pounded out a progression of bluesy chords that brought the talking crowd at The Island Pub on March 1 to a near-silent standstill.
As the rest of the band accompanying her moved to the rhythms she played, Hooley opened her mouth and let out a sound that only can be compared to crystal.
"It's a very pure, clean voice," said Josh Lockhart, who fronts the band with Hooley. "She has a very strong and powerful lead voice, but she's also gifted in singing harmony and matching the cadence of how you sing a word. She's as talented a singer as anyone, mainstream or not."
The band is One Aisle Over. It features Hooley on keyboards, Lockhart on guitar, Rod Crist on mandolin and Chris Fannin on bass. Lockhart and Hooley bring most of the original material to the group, but all members sing and contribute songs. They describe their music as acoustic-rock.
"(The name) is a play on the fact that our music is not mainstream, not something people are going to be familiar with. It wouldn't be in the main section of the store, but would be one aisle over," Lockhart said.
The band began as a duo originally formed by Lockhart and Crist. They played at the Alaskan Hotel & Bar's open mike and at the Alaska Folk Festival before bringing in Hooley.
"I heard her play and sing and of course was really drawn to her stuff," Lockhart said.
Hooley said the fact she and Lockhart were friends helped.
"We were friends, and we just happened to have this great thing in common," Hooley said. "If that friendship element wasn't there (the music) probably wouldn't be as dynamic or as magical as it is right now."
Lockhart recently completed a CD of original songs called, "After All This," available online and at their live shows. Hooley, Crist and Fannin provided back up intrumentation and vocal harmonies for the project.
Lockhart's songs are often biographical and sometimes used as a way to record his life.
"If I was going through something, you know, relationships, that kind of thing, I ended up just writing songs about it," he said. "It just kind of becomes my journal."
Hooley writes songs with universal themes, she said.
"Love and life, forgiveness and redemption, and those kinds of things. Sometimes I think of my songs as fables. They kind of have a point to them," she said.
The band, which practices twice a week and hangs out together socially, has found success in the collaborative process.
"You really have to trust who you are playing with, and you have to trust each others' heart and have the same vision," Hooley said.
Both Lockhart and Hooley enjoy bringing their songs to the group.
"When you've just been playing your song with an acoustic guitar and singing by yourself, and someone else comes in, it very quickly changes the sound of the song. And that's pretty exciting," Lockhart said.
"All of a sudden that song has a whole new life to it and has a whole new energy to it," she said. "It's almost like it's not even your song anymore, but it's exactly what you wanted it to be."
Since Lockhart's CD release party on Jan. 4, the band has been booking more public performances, including The Island Pub show, a slot at this year's folk festival and other venues around town. The band also is developing songs for Hooley's CD, which is expected to be released in a year.
"We've been trying to hit it real hard right now," Hooley said. "(Performing in public) gets the music shaped up and makes it really easy to go into the studio and record," she said.
As one CD project finishes and another one picks up, and as the band plays out more in the community, one of its goals is to make a difference.
"Music doesn't come to life until you've shared it with somebody," Hooley said. "At some point you take it to the people, and you share your heart and you make yourself vulnerable. You hope at the end of the day that someone experienced something or picked up something that made them think, or inspired them in some way."
Teri Tibbett is a writer and musician living in Juneau. She can be reached at www.tibbett.com.
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