by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & OLIVIA & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he first time I heard Olivia, it was at some random Empyrean open-mic. Dap to everyone who came out and played that night, but her hard-strumming, reggae-inflected songs were a cut above. Reminiscent, to a degree, of vintage Ani DiFranco -- but more balanced -- Olivia struck DiFranco's whine and added a degree of objectivity that Ani never had.
Her songs were so fully formed -- and had such a self-awareness --for someone I'd never heard of before, it led me to think the 20-something had to be playing covers I didn't recognize. When I asked her, some weeks later, if those were originals, she replied offhandedly, "Oh yeah, they're mine."
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & n every picture of Olive Green (whose real name is Anna) in the whole world -- or at least MySpace -- she wears a smile. They run the gamut from earnest to ecstatic, but never sly, never sarcastic.
Which isn't to say her music is facile. "Ultimate Painter" is a reflection on God. "Discovered how connected I could be to something tangible / I know it's simple, but it was incredible / the feeling it gave me."
She seems almost to break out in laughter on "Chiang Mai" when she sings, "My boobs are peeling because they got fried. / Laying shirtless writing gloomy songs / and wearing my Penguin thongs / is all I been doing."
I'll take her word for it, but if she's written any gloomy songs, I haven't heard them.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & O & lt;/span & f the five playing this gig, Yvonne Archer has the most complex production. Canned beats and handclaps mix with delicately plucked acoustic guitar, spacey flourishes and the occasional glockenspiel-ish sound on "If Only," while a sultry voice lists off a life's worth of regrets in the crackly vintage recording style and exaggerated warble of early Devendra Banhart. It's a shotgun blast of elements and influences, and just about every one hits its mark.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & t isn't until six minutes into the eight-minute "Fu Inle" (referencing the Rabbit language from Watership Down) that you really notice Hannah Reader's voice. Until that point, it shares time with a mesmerizing, rollicking, slightly sinister piano melody. It's a back-and-forth struggle. When her voice finally breaks free, it's devastating: "And the clover will stretch all over / the hills and on forever / And you can eat as much as you like / and we will dance by the moonlight." Her towering, unfettered voice is the perfect payoff to a beautiful, carefully constructed and above all looooong song of yearning.
Like a certain musical act of some esteem playing Empyrean the night after her, Hannah Reader came to Spokane to escape the confines of the Los Angeles music scene. She played a ton of shows, but in the wash of L.A.'s massive scene, nothing took root. "It was so frustrating," she says.
She's settling in here, though. The people at the Ridpath let her play their disused lobby piano after hours and she's working on a side project for which she doesn't play piano. The Empyrean gig is the only one she currently has booked, so unless you hang around the hotel on a non-Club-23 night, you won't hear that gorgeous, mournful piano.
Hannah Reader, Olive Green, Olivia and Yvonne Archer join Karli Fairbanks at Empyrean on Friday, April 25, at 7 pm. $3. Call 838-9819.