Tori Amos, Paula Cole, Fiona Apple and Sarah McLachlan reinvigorated the piano in the ‘90s pop/rock world, transforming it from a mere accompaniment tool to its own dynamic voice that could pounce and wail, sigh and strut. Now, in the new millennium, Meredith Blis is drawing comparisons to these stars as she blazes her own path in the tradition of such confessional singer/songwriters.
Her first full-length album, “A Purple Kind of Blue” (winner of the 2006 New Mexico Music Industry Award for Best Pop CD, as well as a Best Vocal Performance nominee) spotlights a musician who lines her elegant melodies with quirky edges. Whether she’s throwing in a Jimi Hendrix-style intro for her ruminative track “Legacy” or drawing inspiration from bathroom graffiti for “Untitled Love Song,” Meredith’s melodic-piano-driven-pop-meets-blues is a refreshing change of pace.
”I don’t always write a song in terms of what’s going on in the moment, but for them to be real they have to come from a real place inside of you,” the New York-based artist says of her music. “I don’t think I put myself out in people’s faces. That’s really scary and that’s really brave, and that’s one of the things I really admire about Tori Amos. There’s a subtlety to my style, and I’m sneaky in that I use metaphors, which I think lets people interpret things through their own experience.”
Meredith’s instruments are a nimble, jazz-tinged piano and a voice that leaps from a smooth croon to a powerful siren. Like her song “Such a Lovely Girl” proclaims, “A lot a bit of tough . . . Full of heat/But pretty damn sweet” are strong aspects of her material. So are “half a cup a sugar, a quarter cup of salt, a quarter cup of raindrops [that] makes one huge cup of heart,” to quote her new tune “Subterranean Lovesick Daughter.”
Music has been integral to Meredith’s life since day one. Her father, Milton Sincoff, was a longtime executive at Arista Records, and her mother played piano. Her grandmother studied voice and piano at the Juilliard School, and her grandfather owned a music store. Meredith tinkered at the keys as a girl, but her heart was set on being a dancer. However, two knee surgeries forced her to re-evaluate her career, and she switched her creative expression from dancer to musician. She began focusing on music during her senior year at Sarah Lawrence College, and after graduating she continued her education by studying classical composition and music theory at the Juilliard School.
”One thing I can always say about music is it always makes sense. I see this so clearly with classical,” she observes. “When nothing else makes works—be it relationships, finances, your hair cut—you can always sit down at the piano and make sense of a piece of Mozart. It’s always there for me, and it’s a joy.”
Since then Meredith has developed into a seasoned artist of the New York live-performance scene. The Bitter End, The Cutting Room, Arlene’s Grocery, Cafe Vivaldi and CBGB’s Gallery are among the rooms she has played. The throaty, sensual quality of her vocals and their smoldering tones, perfectly showcased in her torchy number “The O Song,” conjure Janis Joplin’s vibrancy and Aretha Franklin’s soul. The delicate piano tinklings in “Such a Lovely Girl” and “Fairy Dust” hint at Amos’ influence. But the overall sound, a mixture of honey and vinegar, is all Meredith’s own. In addition to the New Mexico Music Industry Award, her originality has twice won the Internet song competition Rock Solid Pressure, snagged an honorable mention in the spring 2006 Peace-Driven Songwriting competition and has made her a featured performer at the 2004 CMJ Music Festival and the 2005 HOWL-Fest celebrating the arts in her native East Village.
”A Purple Kind of Blue” is the realization of a creative dream. Meredith longed to record away from the bustle of New York so she could fully immerse herself in the project, and she found the time was right when she was temporarily living in Taos, New Mexico. Her music carried the heart of New Mexico, though a New York sensibility informs Meredith’s sound. The cinematic qualities of “Mermaid Girl,” the sprightly jazz inflections of “Two Way Street,” the city’s romanticism and hints of cabaret make “Might Aphrodite” tailor-made for a movie soundtrack: They are what give “A Purple Kind of Blue” a dry-eyed sentimentality.
As Meredith promotes the album through her Purple Sky Records label, she is currently living in Taos, NM, focusing full time on her music career and recording her next CD with Grammy- Award winning producer Larry Mitchell at Insatiable Studios in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This album entitled, “Let it Rain,” is due to be released in the December of 2008.
This time around, her writing is hinting at the strong blues influence that was evident at the start of her performance career when she began studying the great women of the blues like Etta James, Bonnie Raitt, Janis Joplin, and Billy Holiday. Her next album will likely combine her talent as a blues vocalist with her pop disposition as a songwriter, while retaining the unique hallmarks that signify her personal style.
The title track of this record has already won The Song of the Year Competition as a Finalist in the Adult Contemporary Category. Meredith was also the unanimous winner of the Los Angeles Music Network (LAMN) Jam– a live performance competition sponsored by NARIP (national association of music professionals).
One of the songs on this CD entitled, “ The Birds and the Bees” discusses the issue of Sexual Assault in America and the chorus details statistics of this pervasive problem. “ I feel very strongly about getting this song out there for education & awareness – as awareness equals prevention – furthermore, my hope is that the music will bring healing to survivors.” Meredith has partnered with RAINN (rape, abuse, incest national network) and part of the proceeds from this album will go directly to the RAINN 24/7 campaign for financial aid to keep their crisis hotlines open 24/7.
In addition to her music career, Meredith worked for many years as a talent buyer in New York promoting jazz and independent artists in through the I AM (Independent, Alternative Music) Showcase, which she founded. In the spring of 2006 Meredith single-handedly created a new jazz venue on the Lower East Side called Mannahatta, “Jazz on the Bowery”, where she worked with some of the top jazz artists in New York City including John Benitez, Randy Johnston, Ron Affif, David Budway and the legendary Grady Tate. She also teaches voice, piano, songwriting and music theory. Having recognized her passion for helping others in her role as a certified Kundalini yoga teacher, she has worked with ‘Yoga for Youth’ as a volunteer yoga teacher for troubled and incarcerated youth, as well as a volunteer for Musicians On Call. Meredith has also promoted concerts for both the World Hunger Year Artists Against Hunger and Poverty initiative and a series of shows that raised a substantial amount of money for New Orleans Musicians and the ASPCA in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
By Christa Titus