As memorable as her songs, Alyson Faith's joy in performing was evident from the first song through the last at her two-hour-plus set at Grounds & Sounds Friday night at the .
That joy has followed the singer/songwriter since she was a child growing up in Commack.
"I would literally stop people in shopping malls when I was four and ask them, 'Do you want to hear me sing?'" she said after the show, signing copies of her CD. "I always had it in my blood. I love the energy I get from a crowd."
Beaming from behind the piano, Faith emerged on occasion to sing at the center-stage mic ("I feel like a jumping bean," she said at one such point), joined by fellow artist/guitarist Johnny Wheels and percussionist John Miller. The instrumental backing, combined with her delicate touch on the ivories, provided ideal complements for Faith's voice – gospel-tinged, equal parts tender and tough, with a slight smokiness that made the more emotive phrases catch in her throat.
Citing Carole King and Joni Mitchell as key influences, Faith said she strives for a similarly yearning quality in her own work.
"I like that touch-and-go, that longing," Faith explained. "It's all about finding a light in a dark place."
Wheels, originally from Birmingham, Alabama but now living in Queens, grew up a fan of old-school country musicians such as Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams. That rootsy feel never left him, evident in the casual charm of his vocals and the just-right looseness of his guitar playing.
"He brought the country out of me," she said.
"I always wanted to play with a girl with a powerful voice," said Wheels of the mutually beneficial partnership.
Faith has called midtown Manhattan home for the last decade, which has given her and Wheels, who co-wrote half of the set's selections, a great deal of inspiration: From the sly, playful "Cowgirl" to the cathartic "Let It Bleed" (not a Rolling Stones cover), her lyrical gifts shone through as brightly as her piano and voice.
Sharing bills with Fountains of Wayne, Joan Osborne and Hot Tuna, she continues to share her music with fans at various venues for a variety of causes – she recently opened for folk legend Pete Seeger at a benefit in Beacon, New York, and is on the board of the anti-gun violence campaign PAX as well as a supporter of offorgetucancer.com.
Having teamed up two years ago, Faith and Wheels also formed Music Moves Me, a business that teaches an interactive music program geared toward pre-school children (She is known as "Aly Sunshine" on the company's website). The pair work with physical therapist/fan Sharon Cinquemani as part of a related program for children and parents called "Music Moves Mom and Me," held on the second Saturday of every month at Sound Therapeutics in Miller Place (for further info, go to www.soundtherapeutics.com).
Faith said there is a children's television show currently in the hopper, as well as two albums, one of which will be of children's music. Turntablist DJ Logic will be a possible contributor on the other album.
Miller, from Kings Park, has been a fan of Faith's for 15 years. Convinced by a friend of a friend to see her perform, Miller was instantly transfixed. In addition to keeping the beat, Faith credits Miller with helping promote her efforts.
Miller reciprocated the praise, speaking highly of Faith's unique talents as a songwriter.
"I've never met anyone who could come up with lyrics as fast as Alyson can," Miller said.
"And look good while doing it," added Wheels with a smile.
Faith performs Friday nights at 6 p.m. at the Underground Lounge in New York City, and is available for house concerts. For more info, visit her Myspace page. Her website, currently under construction, is www.alysonfaith.com.