Mary Fahl is a brave soul. And an honest one, too.
The singer-songwriter, who performs tomorrow night at Frankie's Inner-City Lounge, put her artistic vision ahead of commercial concerns on “The Other Side of Time,” her major-label debut as a solo artist.
A deep-thinking songwriter with a rich contralto voice, Fahl's Sony Odyssey recording features a diverse collection of tunes that drift mysteriously between classical, folk, and pop idioms.
While she would be thrilled for the disc to hit the charts, she knows its unique style may leave radio programmers scratching their heads.
“I know it's a word-of-mouth album. It doesn't fit neatly into any categories and I didn't want it to,” Fahl said in an interview this week while traveling across Pennsylvania. “If I had wanted it to fit neatly, even in a crossover category, I would have done a record that was all arias and put a dance beat to it.”
A former theater student who enjoyed critical acclaim with the 1990s art-rock band October Project, Fahl said her music is getting more cinematic. Two of her solo songs, in fact, are featured prominently in recent movies.
Her entrancing voice sweeps audiences away on “Going Home,” which she co-wrote for the Hollywood epic Gods and Generals.
“I love Stephen Foster and music from the Civil War era,” she said, “and having read the book, I tried to find the theme lyrically to make it a universal soldier song. We submitted it, but honestly didn't think we would make it because they already had Bob Dylan signed up [for the song `Cross the Green Mountain'].”
She also updated a traditional Irish folk song, “The Dawning of the Day,” with lyrics reflecting the events of 9/11, for The Guys.
“The director wanted me to retain the tone of an old ballad, to sound as if they had just discovered a song that happened to parallel the story of 9/11.
“So it was a daunting task. I didn't want to be corny or overly sentimental, but to capture what happened, with the sense of brotherhood and courage.”
Fahl grew up in Rockland County, New York, just northwest of New York City, and after college tried to land a job in musical theater.
“I did the typical thing, wait tables, study, do showcases, and make the rounds for auditions. I was a singer and I tried out for a lot of musicals, but I guess I didn't really look the way that I sounded. I have this sort of dark, big voice, and they don't write parts for voices that fit in that range. I wasn't getting cast in anything, it was always the soprano ahead of me who got the part.”
Looking back, Fahl said with a laugh, “I must have been like Tori Amos trying to audition for The Music Man.”
She went to Europe with her sister and started singing with American expatriates in Amsterdam.
When she returned to the United States, she formed October Project with Emil Adler and Julie Flanders.
That group's two discs received raves from critics but never were the big commercial success that Epic Records had hoped for, and when the label dropped the band, Fahl said she was ready to go solo.
“This is the first record I've made that is a true reflection of who I am as an artist,” she said of “The Other Side of Time.”
Singer-songwriter Mary Fahl performs at 9:30 p.m. tomorrow in Frankie's Inner-City Lounge, 308 Main St. She will be followed by Lemon Vergo, the Waxwings, and Neil Michael Haggerty. Admission is $7. Information: 419-693-5300.