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Catching a rising star

Amanda Richards, who got her start singing at Gresham coffeehouses, is hitting her stride with an upcoming tour and a show at the Aladdin
by: Carole Archer, Amanda Richards’ band, from left, Casey McBride on drums, Jeff Grauzer on bass guitar, Amanda, and George Turner on lead guitar and cello. The band practices about three times a week in McBride’s Gresham home.

The's got a strong voice. She plays a mean guitar. But at her core, she's a lyrics girl.

'If I hear someone rhyme dove with love one more time,' she says, 'I might …'

Amanda Richards rolls her eyes and giggles as her voice trails off.

At 23, Richards is a hometown girl - she attended Barlow High School and Mt. Hood Community College - with big talent.

With a self-produced CD out and a tour planned this fall, she'll headline her first major concert Saturday, Oct. 21 at the Aladdin Theater.

Hailing from a musical family, Richards grew up learning classic folk rock music. Her cousin taught her 'Diamonds and Rust' by Joan Baez. At age 5, she was belting out 'Love is a Battlefield' by Pat Benatar. Leonard Cohen, Peter, Paul and Mary, Joni Mitchell and Tom Waits are regulars on her CD player.

Not exactly typical for a 23-year-old. But Richards isn't your average young singer trying to make it. She's performed at more than 100 venues around the Northwest and California, including the Rose Festival, the Washington County Fair and San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury Street Fair.

She garners praise as she goes. In a 2005 Portland Tribune article, KINK FM deejay Kevin Welch said he was 'surprised at the talent that came out of this gal, not even knowing who she was. It came out of nowhere.'

Maybe it grew out of learning songs from her father and grandfather before hearing them anywhere else. Her grandfather was part of the legendary country harmony group, The Sons of the Pioneers. Her father performed at music festivals, trotting his 2-year-old daughter out on the stage to sing along with him.

She'd compete in festival and fair talent shows, singing 'Rockin' Robin' and 'Angel in the Morning' with no hint of stage fright.

When she was 12, she began to write her first songs and found a talent in crafting lyrics.

'I like to find an old topic and put a new spin on it,' she says. 'I try not to write about things I don't believe in. I try not to do those 'poor me' love songs, the 'why'd you leave me' songs.'

In her CD, 'Not Always Sexy,' she hits on the dissonant notes of fading romance in the song 'That Much to Me.'

I won't hold my breath

for you to change your mind.

I won't try to fix

Faults that aren't mine.

I won't try to stop you

When you go.

But I won't stop loving you, no.

'Cause you mean that much to me.

Her voice, reminiscent of Joan Baez and Emmylou Harris, lilts softly on such songs, but watch out. It can also pack a punch, growling and purring in 'Magnum 45,' a song Richards wrote about a woman who hunts down her one-night stand after he leaves her and kills him. 'I couldn't stand to watch him run,' she sings.

'Obviously, I've never killed someone,' she says, laughing. 'And I've never had a one-night stand, but it makes for a good song.'

One can imagine Richards' popularity at her regular gigs at Paradise Harley in Tigard. She's got just the right mix of sweet and sultry, country and rock, twang and smooth vibrato.

Her sense of humor wiggles its way into her songs too, as in 'Cookies and Whiskey.'

Oh, cookies and whiskey

Donuts and beer.

I love you darlin'

I wish you were here.

But I'll drown my sorrows

in pastries and booze.

I've got a big ass and bad gas

and heartbroken blues.

'I was living in California at the time and there was this period where I seemed to be eating a lot of cookies and drinking a lot of Kahlua,' she says. 'But nothing rhymes with Kahlua, so that's how 'Cookies and Whiskey' came about.'

For Richards, writing lyrics is her 'best form of counseling.'

And performing provides her the best reward. She felt that way May 25, when she packed out Mississippi Studios for a live performance.

'It seems like every show, there'll be one person in the crowd who's really into it, and if I can have one person like that at every show, it's all worth it,' she says.

The girl who started out playing in Café Delirium and Trufflehunter restaurant is now a woman. She's ready to give her dream everything she's got.

In June she quit her day job as a receptionist at a mortgage company. Nothing much seems worth doing for Richards, except what comes naturally - making good music.

'If even one person comes up to me at the end of a show and tells me my music's done something for them,' she says, 'that's what keeps me going.'