by ELIZABETH STRAUCH & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & pparently, the hot day job among starving musicians these days is teaching preschool. Seattle singer/songwriter Neal Burton knows a few such educators of impressionable minds, himself among them. (Just add a subplot about a high-power exec mom who thinks she's above falling in love -- and a bit of Rodgers and Hammerstein -- and I do believe we might have another hit on our hands.)

Burton is not about to use his vocal talents to coerce his 4-year-olds into toothy-grinned renditions of "Do-Re-Mi," and he's not about to float along the perimeter of his classroom singing about rainbows. "I don't really sing to the kids," he says. "They'd probably get bummed out and cry." Burton wants his music to be sincere. Singing about the reality of life to children would only earn him the title of Mr. Melancholy.

Burton's greatest songwriting skill is in expressing raw authenticity. "It's a combination of trying to make sense of stuff around me and processing it," he says. "To me, that's a song." Whether the lyrics lilt through an alt-country style waltz or gallop across an imaginative Irish countryside, they are at once reflective and relevant. Sure, the music addresses the oft-visited subject matter of women, wine and heartbreak, but it's engaging, and helped along by the fact that Burton's got a musical clue.

He spent the past five years making the rounds studying in music programs and conservatories in British Columbia and Boston. Seeing the potential of offering his listeners a sparkling double whammy of well-crafted lyrics to accompany his ethereal melodies, he ultimately got his degree in creative writing. This comes across in songs like "Future Ghosts," sung through two-part harmony and an occasional frantic cello: "The simplest nights leave me jaded now / See the old men drift home from the bars / Weathered boots with their faces plowed / Mixed with bourbon and tea in a jar."

The preschool teacher's own childhood was presided over by a cardboard standee from the film The Lost Boys -- one of those giant ones you get from the movie theaters before they get discarded to make way for other films. It follows that The Lost Boys soundtrack -- featuring a good number of highly polished, over-produced gems of musical drama, including "Cry Little Sister," the film and soundtrack's pi & egrave;ce de r & eacute;sistance, featuring a children's choir responding to the gritty call of singer Gerard McMann -- was a key player in his adolescence.

"It was really awesome," Burton explains, who decided to cover the song years later. "I just wanted to make it less cheesy." Wanting to see what happens to a song after you strip off the sterling production and just anchor onto the lyrics, after all, is often the impetus for some of the cleverest covers. "Through broken walls, that scream I hear / Cry little sister -- thou shall not fall ..." sung through Burton's voice, ends up sounding more haunting than the original -- or its vampires -- could have ever hoped to be. Though it would have been pretty amazing to hear those 4-year-olds chime in on that chorus with their beloved Mr. Burton.

Neal Burton with Fences and Kaylee Cole at Caterina on Friday, March 7, at 8 pm. $5. Call 323-5069.

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