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A musical rejuvenation

A singer-songwriter tackles the rarely told tale of love not yet lost this weekend

Portland singer, songwriter and pianist Naomi LaViolette specializes in the kind of music that goes immediately for the heart strings.

Like her major influences and contemporaries Sarah McLachlan, Sara Bareilles and Colbie Caillat, LaViolette's songs are prodded along by intensely intricate piano hooks, with the singer's ethereal voice drifting overtop in a way that is both soothing and penetrating.

But LaViolette, who recently finished her first, self-titled album, is also something of a contradiction. Her music fuses elements of classical, jazz, pop and world music. The haunted swells of many of her more intense compositions belie an extremely positive message in her poetic lyrical content.

She is an optimist in a musical scene marked by pessimism, a songwriter whose words speak to love's power to lift people up rather than its power to destroy; about life's troubles and triumphs, the joys of motherhood and, as she describes it, 'falling in love and staying in love.'

'In general, my music is optimistic, even though it talks about pain and suffering and having a broken heart,' says LaViolette. 'Somebody once said to me, 'Your songs are very loyal.' That is rare in pop music. Usually you're falling in love, or you're breaking up with someone. I don't have any breakup songs. I have a song that, when I play it live, I say, 'This is a song about when a boy meets a girl and everything is perfect.' It's just about that spot where nothing has gone wrong yet.'

The 35-year-old musician, who performs Friday at the Grand Lodge, has spent an intense year and a half crafting her debut album, which is now available in advance of a yet-to-be-announced official launch performance.

The record, produced by Dean Baskerville - who previously worked with Pink Martini, Sheryl Crow and Everclear - is a collection of eight original songs and two covers of pieces by George Gershwin and Joni Mitchell.

The album became a labor of love for LaViolette, a mother of two who, after receiving a master's degree in piano performance in 2001, performed in bands before becoming a solo act in 2008.

Enlisting the services of countless guest musicians, LaViolette's album is very much a showcase of her talents, with the singer taking duties on piano and all vocals: both lead and harmony. On one track, she lends no fewer than eight vocal tracks to the mix, creating a virtual choir forged only from her own voice.

The Portland native, who now resides in Wilsonville, says the songs draw extensively from her body of influence, making the album as robust as her own extensive web of influence. The record's first single, 'Words are Not,' for example, combines classical piano with rock/pop drumming and Latin rhythm, electric guitar and a full string section evoking a cinematic score.

'When I sit down at the piano, my influences all sort of come out together at the same time. My songwriting is very honest and very natural and in the moment. A lot of the music I draw from is jazz and pop and sometimes even classical,' she says.

She says that wide range of influence, combined with her lyrical honesty, helps draw audiences in to the intimate musical world she creates.

'The thing that's really cool about music is that it's both planned and unplanned. That's also represented in the styles that I represent,' she explains. 'Classical is very planned and structured, whereas jazz is very unplanned. And then you have pop, which is the middle ground that sort of bridges the gap a little bit.'

As a performer, LaViolette is just as diverse. She's as comfortable playing as part of a duo as she is playing with a full band. For the Grand Lodge show, she joins forces with Michele Van Kleef for a performance featuring works by both musicians, in addition to rearrangements of songs by U2, Fleetwood Mack, The Beatles, Jack Johnson and others.

'I learn the songs close to the originals and then find ways to make them more 'me,'' says LaViolette. 'It's interesting for the audience to hear the songs in a way they've never heard them before. I think that (paired with the heartfelt originals) really connects with connects with people.'