ASP Underground Coffeehouse Concert Series Coordinators Nick Duncan and Lora Mednick pose in front of the Coffeehouse sign. Photo by Joe Rudko/The AS Review

Matt Crowley/The AS Review

Only two shows are left in this year’s Underground Coffeehouse Concert Series, which means only one edition of “Go Underground!” remains … this one!

At 8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 26, singer-songwriter Paleo, a.k.a. David Strackany, will take the stage for a solo show. Strackany, currently set to embark on a North American tour this summer, made a name for himself in 2006 when he decided to write and record a song every day for a full year (that’s 365 songs, people). “The Song Diary” project was featured in publications ranging from the New York Times to Entertainment Weekly.

But Strackany is far from any sort of gimmick. His folk-centric music, driven by his silky-smooth voice and complemented by his own guitar-plucking and lo-fi recording techniques, has given him a fledging reputation. In several of his songs, Paleo showcases his ability to go from the sing-talk stylings of artists like Conor Oberst to the vocal cord-straining yell found in the recordings of Kristian Mattson (a.k.a. The Tallest Man on Earth) and Matthew Vasquez of Delta Spirit.

Strackany has added other qualities to his music that make him stand out. For instance, during “The Song Diary” project, Strackany began playing on a half-size children’s guitar, admitting that it allowed him to be more efficient in his songwriting because he could play while driving.

After Bellingham, Paleo will be playing dates in Seattle and Olympia before heading east to begin his tour. Information on future tours, as well as links to recordings from “The Song Diary,” can be found on his website at www.paleo.ws.

Because of Memorial Day weekend, there will be no Friday, May 28 show at the Coffeehouse. Instead, local musician Robert Blake will have the honor of closing out the year’s last Coffeehouse show at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, June 2. Seattleites Tomten will open.

Four men and one woman comprise Tomten, a young band with a sound that feels a little older than they are. Of course, considering they list the Kinks and Buddy Holly among their influences, it’s not surprising. What is surprising is how well they do it.

Instead of relying on guitars, Tomten focuses primarily on pianos, keyboards and organs. It makes sense. The moody, brooding aura of songs like “The Ups and Downs of Being Aloof,” wouldn’t be possible without them. Guitars are there as well. Later in the same song, fuzzed-out guitar solos have about as much play as the pianos that introduce them. The end product is a nice little take on baroque pop, a genre becoming increasingly popular with the success of bands like Grizzly Bear and the Morning Benders.

Tomten currently has an EP “Hum the ZZZs” on sale and will be playing multiple shows in the Seattle area in mid-June.
Following them will be Robert Blake, who, along with Austin Jenckes and a handful of other young singer-songwriters, is one of Bellingham’s best-kept secrets. Blake doesn’t so much sing as talk, conveying messages of love and life over sporadic guitar playing. The style may be abrasive to some, but given that Blake has been performing since he was 15, it’s sure to be a polished show that many will be able to appreciate.

It’s not hard to notice Blake’s affinity for classic artists like Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. But his unique qualities— like his dry humor and sometimes cryptic songwriting—are what have earned him his following, as well as praise from multiple folk music publications.

If you’re still not convinced, consider this: after touring Europe in 2008, Blake left a trail of praise and compliments in his wake, from regional publications to the BBC. For a mostly small-time artist, the tour was an absolute smash.
Besides playing multiple dates in Bellingham, Blake can be found at this year’s Seattle Folklife Festival, taking place over Memorial Day weekend.

And with that, another year of free music at the Underground is over. It seems appropriate that Blake, a local folk artist with a propensity for playing living rooms and backyards, will close it out. Like dozens of other artists that have come through the Coffeehouse, he seems to thrive in intimate environments, where every note, squeak and crash can be heard by the audience. The goal of the Coffeehouse isn’t just to bring in sweet bands. Every show is a chance for students to see a band they might not have seen otherwise. It’s a chance to be surprised, shocked and entertained, something Coordinators Nick Duncan and Lora Mednick have had no trouble doing this year.

As always, the shows are free and open to the public.