by Sheri Boggs and Mike Corrigan

Brenda Weiler might have left behind the frigid plains of North Dakota for the milder climate and friendlier neighborhoods of Portland, Ore., but a plain, chilly ennui pervades every note of her fifth album, the lovely and evocative Cold Weather.

As the 26-year-old native of Fargo, N.D., writes in one of the songs on the album (her first to receive national distribution), "I came from a place / the kind that grows the kind that leaves / who seem to forget where it is that they come from."

"Yeah, I grew up in the Midwest, and it seems like all the young people wanna leave. There's a lack of roots, really," says Weiler, who returns to the Shop on Saturday night. "Eventually people come back, but when they're young it seems like they can't get away fast enough. So yeah, that song does come from a sort of autobiographical place."

Although Weiler chose Portland for its proximity to the forest and the ocean, not to mention the relative easiness of life in a big, notoriously laid-back metropolis, almost every song reflects a sense of isolation and/or disappointment.

"It's weird, when we were in pre-production, we had all these songs that were fairly slow and melancholy, and I wasn't sure what we were going to do with all these similar songs," she explains. "When we went into it, I was thinking about how we're going to make this album cohesive and that phrase 'cold weather' just kept coming back to me. So the theme of them is very similar. Some of the songs are extremely personal, some are just stories... but they all seem to have something in common about loneliness and distance."

That is not to say, however, that Cold Weather is in any way harsh, boring or even particularly depressing. Weiler's voice is infectious -- she has a gently confessional alto that is so refreshing for being neither cloying or too whispery. Instead, her vocals convey a matter-of-fact clarity further supported by strong lyrics about love lost, love longed for -- and my personal favorite -- love completely bungled by one's own stupidity. It's the kind of thing you want to have around on a long drive, a rainy day or an evening with good wine and great friends.

For fans of Weiler's earlier work, this album marks a bit of a departure. The sunny "folk" feel of her last record Fly Me Back is sublimated into Cold Weather's moody and atmospheric layers. Her first record since signing with Seattle's Virt Records, Cold Weather benefits from more fleshed-out orchestration and a fuller sound overall.

"It's definitely the best work that I've done. People who've never heard my work before seem to like it, and the people who have all my albums seem to like it, too, even though it's a little bit challenging -- in a good way, of course. But it's a little different from what I've done before," she says. "Sonically it's the best quality of sound I've had yet. Lyrically the songs are quite a bit more subtle. I started songwriting when I was 19, 20, 21... my writing has matured, and this album has a more complicated feel to it."

For Weiler, the new album also represents a chance to try to shuck the "folk" persona she's carried around for so long. Just because she's a girl with a guitar doesn't mean she's a "girl with a guitar," and all the down-home, vegetarian, tree-hugging, upbeat baggage that might imply. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Weiler just wants to sit her music down outside overly familiar boundaries.

"The conception a lot of people have about folk is that it's corny, it's simplistic. And this has a totally different feel from that kind of 'folk.' In fact, I wouldn't call it folk at all. It's acoustic but it's not really folk." Got it.

Soul Pursuit -- He calls his band Good Fortune. But in reality, guitarist Erich Munzner's current standing in the music industry is more the result of hard work and perseverance than the influence of anything so fuzzy and ephemeral as fortune or "luck."

Spokane live-music watchers might recall that a couple of years ago, Munzner headed up a lively little local blues-rock trio called the Bone Daddies. After taking that band as far as it could go on a regional level (releasing two albums, touring and receiving accolades from their peers, fans and the press), Munzner and the Bone Daddies packed up and moved to L.A. in pursuit of that most elusive of all prizes: a recording contract. That quest, it seems, took a heavy toll on the band, ultimately causing the bass player and drummer to bail, leaving Munzner alone to carry on.

And carry on he did, eventually landing that deal (with Carousel Records), assembling a new band (with drummer Rick Elliot and bassist Nate Morefield) and creating a new album featuring his skilled and tasteful instrumental chops and soulful vocals (Soul Voyage). He feels grateful for the opportunities he's now able to explore. He names his band Good Fortune.

Call it kismet. Call it fate. But don't call it luck.

Munzner's got a crazy Spokane performance schedule plotted out this week for himself and Good Fortune, beginning with a noontime gig at the Northern Lights Brewpub on Thursday and continuing with an appearance at the North Division Hastings on Friday afternoon at 2 pm, a full-on show with his band and the Longnecks at the B-Side on Friday night, and still another show at the Parkside Bistro in Coeur d'Alene on Saturday night.

Follow that Bliss -- For the fourth year in a row, Dave Kotland of local power pop band Vertigo Bliss will bring the rock to the Met for a holiday concert that benefits the Toys for Tots foundation. It's a worthy cause, to be sure, for Kotland and his knights in denim and leather. With their avenging broadswords beat into guitars, Vertigo Bliss and two other bands will take the stage in the name of altruism and the giving spirit of Christmas. They will rock for the tots. And you will be there this Friday night to see and hear it all happen.

The Rock for Tots event was founded in 2000 by Kotlan as a way for area musicians to help the Toys for Tots Foundation, which for more than a half a century has collected and distributed toys during the Christmas season to needy kids locally and throughout the nation. Previous years' shows have been wildly successful (both in toys collected and rocking good times had) and have provided the impetus and inertia for RFT #4. All of the toy donations and proceeds from this benefit concert will go directly to area children through Toys for Tots.

Vertigo Bliss -- Kotlan (guitar/vocals), Denny Holler (bass) and Steve Hurlburt (drums/vocals) -- trades in hook-filled big rock that exhibits a well-developed pop instinct and an all-important sense of humor. The group has been representing the Inland Northwest in Budweiser's "True Music Live" program and is touring in support of its 2003 sophomore effort, Phonophobic.

Joining headliners Vertigo Bliss this year are fellow local acts Kite and Lucid. Coeur d'Alene progressive rock outfit Kite released the album Gravity in 1997. It was a multi-media box set, really, that included a CD, sticker, lyric book filled with original watercolor paintings and a 70-page journal chronicling the making of the album. They are currently touring the West Coast and working on a follow-up album.

With a driving, metallic hard rock sound reminiscent of Tool, Faith No More and Helmet, Lucid managed to climb to the top of the charts last February, with three songs reaching No. 1. The band is readying a debut full-length CD for a January release.

Publication date: 12/11/03

The Best of Christmas @ The Coeur d'Alene Resort

Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. and Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through Dec. 18
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