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Soloist's vocals soar at Sunshine Theatre

Singer/songwriter Libby Kirkpatrick has made a home for herself on the road, touring non-stop for two years.

She put her musical chops to work Thursday night at the Sunshine Theatre, and everyone in the small, appreciative audience seemed deeply affected by her performance. Kirkpatrick came out strong from the beginning. Sitting on a stool, wearing glasses and a wool hat, she threw her head back and sang "Yeah," and the word soared across the span of four measures.

"No tomatoes please," she said after the enthusiastic applause for her first song.

By the second song she discarded her stool and played the rest of the concert standing up, her feet moving in and out of a shuffle. Between songs she told stories and her stage personality came across with gratifying humility, which seemed rooted in an iron-willed strength of purpose. The acoustics of the hall, known for muddying a band's sound with perpetual echoes, actually seemed to benefit a solo performer.

Opening act Celeste Hernandez-Gerety sounded great, her voice taking on a sensual lushness in the reverberations created by the giant room.

The echoing also seemed to add another layer to Kirkpatrick, who sings as if she's standing in the wind and her voice is a kite. Kirkpatrick's breath never seems to run out and her voice dips and soars to places impossible to predict.

"Her melodies are totally unexpected and her lyrics have immediacy," said Nels Andrews, a singer/songwriter who was in the audience.

Andrews, like most of the audience, was impressed enough to buy a Kirkpatrick CD.

Kirkpatrick's newest release, Winged, was released last month. Without any fancy studio pyrotechnics, it is a faithful reproduction of her live performance - simply a woman with a guitar, an awesome voice and something to say.

Born in 1970, Kirkpatrick began her musical training when she was four, studying piano. She was a student at UNM for a semester in 1991. Her first CD, Live at Fanfare, came out in 1995 and she released Songs from the Ether in 1998. According to her Web site, she won first prize last year at the Telluride Troubadour Songwriter's competition. She is presently working on a new CD project with members of the band Blood, Sweat and Tears.

About halfway through her first set, Kirkpatrick said she has considered "shuffling off to another dimension," which seems like something she does when she sings. Even with her mouth closed she is capable of releasing hauntingly pure vocal tones, taking the act of humming to a new level.

To wind up the concert, she invited Hernandez-Gerety up to perform a duet. She then sang a song with her touring partner Marca Cassity, who shares the bill with Kirkpatric at most tour dates.

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Backstage after the concert, Kirkpatrick relaxed on the couch with a beer.

"I'm more interested in the wellspring of musical inspiration than anything else," she said. "But if I wasn't a songwriter I would want to be studying physics."

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