by Patrick Dunn
From the June, 2018 issue
Abigail Stauffer is a ball of overly self-conscious energy onstage, constantly verbalizing her worries that she'll stumble into a foot-in-mouth moment as she banters between songs. That charmingly awkward style stands in stark contrast to the contemporary folk singer's lyrical themes and performance style, which radiate strength and confidence.
Tall, with wide-set eyes and a cascading mane of dreadlocks, Stauffer is a visually powerful presence onstage. Her vocals fluctuate between a commanding, declarative lower register revealing a bit of bluesy influence and a breathy, somewhat trembly upper register that recalls Joni Mitchell. Stauffer knows how to use both elements to drive home her emotional, personal lyrics. Her delivery never seems calculated; Stauffer seems to sincerely feel every line she sings.
The young Dexter native has always spoken openly and with good humor about her struggles to come to terms with her musical talents and identity. Her lyrics are those of a woman who has come out on the other side of those struggles thoroughly self-possessed. The tunes range from the self-explanatory "Better Off Alone" (her most popular song on Spotify, even, she notes wryly, among happily married or coupled fans) to "Ready," in which she sings, "I don't want to sound hasty but I've gotten to know myself / I think I'm finally ready to try knowing someone else."
Stauffer's lyrics are further elevated by her strong ear for graceful, often delicate hooks. Her sound is most easily classified as folk but it also incorporates pop, jazz, and blues influences. She's quite capable of bringing the whole package across in a solo setting with just an acoustic guitar, but she's best seen with at least one of her rotating cast of talented collaborators. Her music lends itself particularly well to string accompaniment, and cellist Dave Haughey has become one of her most remarkable recent bandmates. Haughey is an astonishingly innovative and sure-footed performer. He and Stauffer have written songs and traveled the world together, and the fruits of their collaboration are beautiful to behold.
Stauffer's onstage banter--filled with self-disclosure, anecdotes about songwriting, and praise for her bandmates--builds even more goodwill. Warm, talented, and surprisingly wise, she may find that her next evolutionary step will move her beyond self-doubt. For now, it keeps the show entertaining and reveals the real person behind the powerful sounds.
Stauffer plays at Mash June 6 & 27, at the Old Town June 10, and at Top of the Park June 21.
[Originally published in June, 2018.]
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