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Singer-songwriter Curtis gives a warm, fame-worthy performance

Boston-based singer-songwriter Catie Curtis deserves to be better
known. That's what bubbled in my head after her uplifting concert Saturday night in Sacred Heart Music Center.

Curtis' songs are deceptively well crafted with a sophisticated simplicity. Her deft vocal phrasing is completely organic and her guitar playing is nimble and supportive. Her warm personality comes through within the lyrics and in her banter between songs.

With a date later this month to start work on a new recording in Nashville, Curtis was eager to share a crop of new songs that she is road-testing as a barometer of might make the final album cut.

While tubing with her daughter at a kids' camp in Michigan last summer, she wrote "Teenagers Jumping Off A Bridge." It paints a breezy picture of kids in the waning days of summer: "Teenagers jumping off a railroad bridge. They've known each other since they were kids. They'll do the cannonball one more week, riding double on a bicycle, eating bubblegum and vying for the sun."

Curtis' folk music has an unapologetic optimism. With just her acoustic guitar and a "stomp pedal," she rocked the joint with "Happy" and its chorus, "Take the weight off your shoulders, I'll show you how."

Curtis introduced an amusing and tender portrait of her father, "Dad's Yard," by humorously explaining that he has a proclivity to save and fix up anything and everything, including a portion of the high school gym floor. But his love and support of his family is at the core of the song: "If you need hope, if you're coming apart, you can find it in my dad's heart. He'll polish the gray until it shines blue, but if you know my dad he won't give up on you."

At Curtis' invitation, Rachael Kilgour of Duluth came onstage midway through both sets to add vocal harmonies and fiddle. The combination of Curtis' melodic alto and Kilgore's slightly "little-girl" soprano made a good thing even better.

Not afraid to hit the political landscape, Curtis offered "People Look Around." It started as a song aimed at one particular Republican strategist, then with the help of friend and songwriter Mark Erelli morphed into a look at the human toll and devastation in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The song earned first place among more than 15,000 entries in the International Songwriting Competition and allowed Curtis to give part of the winnings back to that area.

As the night progressed, Curtis' in-between tunes camaraderie with the crowd of more than 200 became as enjoyable as the songs themselves. She shared her thoughts on GPS in cars, Christmas with children, her pug dog Sam, feline depression, being on the Lilith Fair tour and more. She seemed to reveal a bit more of herself during the breaks than through the music.

The concert concluded with "Long Night Moon," a song about delayed gratification written while Curtis awaited the arrival of her second child adopted from Guatemala. Intertwined is hope and optimism: "All through the winter I'll build my fire in this empty room and you'll come back when the magnolias bloom."

On a February night within the confines of an old cathedral, Curtis lit up Duluth and left many in the audience longing for a return visit.

John Ziegler has worked as a music director at KUMD-FM for 31 years and produced compilation discs from his studio sessions. He reviews music for the News Tribune. Reach him at