The one-woman performer that is Tiny Vipers (Jesy Fortino) serves burritos on Pine Street. This is something I wish I didn't know. Because once the wintry chill of her voice and guitar creeps up my spine, I want her to be a recluse, sitting alone in a cold Eastern European flat, filling damp notebooks with prose, and singing to the lone houseplant that sits withering in her kitchen. It's a dreary image, to be sure, but one that is intensely romantic and befitting of her open-sea dirges.
Tiny Vipers plays the Sunset Tavern 5443 Ballard Ave., 206-784-0627, www.sunsettavern.com. $6. 9 p.m. Fri., Oct. 27.
The first two times I caught Tiny Vipers, she was opening for Howlin' Rain and Band of Horses. Those two acts draw understandably boozy crowds, which doesn't make things easy if you actually want to hear what Fortino is singing. She sits slouched behind her acoustic guitar, plucking out sparse, single-stringed melodies that are pensive and allow plenty of room for open air to creep into the songs. Naturally, if you're sauced on a Friday night and waiting to see a big rock show, you no doubt have the attention span of an elementary school kid who forgot to take his Ritalin. Thus, you end up chattering through her entire set. But if you are possessed of sophisticated ears, you probably can't shake Fortino's air-splitting voice, which cracks and leaps from the back of her throat like Karen Dalton or a less-quaint Joanna Newsom. At times, she sounds like a muted horn, and other times, she sounds like a ghost. And her lyrics are some of the most solemn and arresting. Though I normally loathe faux-Euro accents, something about Fortino's is genuine because it's what the songs call for. Her song "Shipwreck" is an impossibly bleak take on, well, a shipwreck, but like the best songs, the heart of it transcends the subject matter. "We want to struggle and survive/We want to live 'cause we know that life is beautiful/Though surreal at times/It's still worth living," she sings, and when she does, you wonder if Fortino might view herself as a castaway, especially when performing in front of weekend drunks who won't pay attention to her. But mark my words, you'd best pay attention now, because once she releases her debut EP for Sub Pop, you'll be waiting in line to see her headline Neumo's at this time next year.
Brian J. Barr