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Sweet Briar grad Michelle Raymond coming home for White Hart show

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    Washington, D.C.-based singer/songwriter Michelle Raymond started performing with Frank Mitchell Jr., an accomplished saxophonist who tours with the trip-hop duo Thievery Corporation, in 2011.

Posted: Thursday, May 29, 2014 9:45 am

Performances get interrupted often enough that artists aren’t shy about venting their frustrations or even walking off the stage when things go wrong.

Barbadian pop vixen Rihanna, for instance, abruptly ended a 2011 tour stop in Dallas after some pyrotechnics went haywire and a flurry of sparks began raining down from above.

That same year — and in the same city, no less — retro-rocking Kings of Leon singer Caleb Followill stunned the audience when he cut a concert short, complaining it was too hot, saying, “I'm gonna go backstage, and I'm gonna vomit. I'm gonna drink a beer, and I'm gonna come back out and play three more songs.”

Followill never returned.

Then, in 2012, Detroit native Jack White was apparently unhappy with the acoustics at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, so he disappeared after only playing 45 minutes, drawing the ire of fans who’d paid good money to see the former White Stripes frontman.

And these are just a few examples.

But D.C.-based singer/songwriter Michelle Raymond didn’t lash out or throw a temper tantrum or fly the coop when a random dude off the street disrupted one of her gigs in our nation's capital a few years back.

No, she decided to embrace the oddity of it all.

“I was playing a local bar, and this guy, who I thought was homeless, walked by and knocked on the window mid-song and kind of mouthed, ‘Hey, can I come in?’” explains Raymond, who’ll be in town this Friday to perform a solo, stripped-down set at the White Hart.

“And I was like, ‘Uh, sure.’ He walked in with his saxophone, hopped onstage, totally improvised three songs, and then was like, ‘Alright, thanks. See you later.’ … Everyone there was like, ‘What the hell just happened?’”

The mystery man turned out to be Frank Mitchell Jr., an accomplished saxophonist who tours with the D.C.-bred trip-hop duo Thievery Corporation, a popular EDM-style collective led by masterminds Rob Garza and Eric Hilton.

After Raymond and Mitchell Jr. hooked up in 2011, it wasn’t long before they started booking shows, which she had been doing for some time under the moniker Michelle Raymond Band, a group the 26-year-old Sweet Briar grad formed while attending college.

Since she moved to Washington in 2008, various musicians have rotated in and out of the fold, but Raymond and Mitchell Jr. managed to round out the lineup with the addition of upright bassist Daniel Shorstein in 2012 and drummer Lance LaRue last year.

Although the quartet has yet to release a proper album, they continue to fine-tune a collection of tracks Raymond’s been working on in a studio in her hometown of Richmond, where she travels to record her brand of jazz-infused folk.

The singer’s throaty, mournful rasp is reminiscent of bluesy rocker Melissa Etheridge, who emerged at the end of the ’80s as a sort of high-octane heartland powerhouse, shouting hoarsely about bad love and worse lovers.

“Yeah, she’s one of my main influences, especially vocally,” Raymond says. “‘Come to My Window’ … I would sing along to it, and my mom would always be like, ‘Sing louder. Sing louder.’ What I actually did was just try to mimic her. I actually feel like I learned how to sing that way.”

With songs like the soul-flavored “Drinkin’ Whiskey” — a pensive lament that pits a crisp groove against the unsettling realities of romantic entanglements — along with the moody, slow-thumping emotion of “Change” and the nimbly driving jam rock of “Crazy Legs,” where, thanks to Mitchell Jr.’s fluid sax runs, Raymond channels a hint of Dave Matthews’ lithe jazz fusion, she seems capable of churning out more than simply jilted confessionals.

Maybe that’s what helped her land a spot opening for country superstar Brad Paisley on the National Mall in September.

“They were looking for a local artist, and my name got tossed into the mix,” she says with an air of casual excitement. “The show is free and open to the public, so it should be pretty cool.”

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