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In the Portland crowd, Marble stands out.

Byline: Serena Markstrom The Register-Guard

After 10 years of plugging away in Portland's music scene, Leigh Marble finally is getting noticed.

Regional media and music fans are hailing Marble as one of the brightest talents in the area after the release four months ago of his sophomore solo effort, "Red Tornado."

Marble makes his first stop at Luckey's tonight to perform gritty folk-rock songs that - although they are usually about relationships - tend to steer clear of routine boy-girl sob stories. On "Red Tornado," he vents about envy, hypocritical friends and a rapist who was never punished for his crime.

The 11 songs take on a range of sonic personalities while managing to sound as if they all are the work of one artist. Marble, 32, spends a great deal of time arranging his songs, and the results are impeccably produced tunes that mine every style, from outlaw country to punk-influenced folk.

The only time he stumbles is when he gets soft in his lyrics and resorts to a cliche that might have been avoided with one more rewrite.

Success comes slowly

Marble received an English degree from Brown University in 1998. After doing a project with fellow New Englander Erin McKeown, he moved to Portland, where he figured he could break into the scene and get a music career going in a year or so.

In the decade since, the Portland scene has become much more crowded, launching such bands as the Decemberists and M. Ward to national success. Marble had long since put down personal and professional roots; now, he has begun to make his mark as an artist.

"I moved to Portland thinking I would try living here for a year, and I guess I stayed because the music scene held promise early on," he said during a phone interview from his home. "And it's starting to deliver on that promise.

"In that 10 years, (there were) a lot of stops and starts. I took a couple of years off from the singer-songwriter thing.

"When I look back now, it took a while to get my skills up to par."

He's plugged in with local musicians now, has overcome his shyness and performs with more confidence. And his new project has received a lot of attention, including being named one of the best Portland albums of 2007 by Willamette Week.

That honor put Marble on the same list with Modest Mouse, the Lifesavas and Chris Robley.

Robley is probably Marble's closest musical peer from the group - a melodic, folk-based artist with literate but dark observations put to sometimes-rockin' songs. When Robley last played Luckey's, the crowd was thin but appreciative.

Marble is likely to experience the same at that venue, which doesn't always attract the singer-songwriter audience the way, say, Sam Bond's Garage does.

On cdbaby.com, Marble describes his album as "Fugazi Americana." A song from the punk pioneers' first album and a tune from Michael Franti's old band Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy served as touchstones for "Get Yours," one of the more challenging songs on the release.

"Get Yours" describes a fictional rape. It includes a promise that even if the criminal never faces trial, every bad thing comes back in twos; eventually, he will pay for what he did.

Marble said the song was based on the story of a friend's rape. He heard it years ago, but it has stayed with him.

He said he made three or four attempts trying to deal with the anger that he felt toward the rapist. "Get Yours" best said what he wanted to say.

Still, he worried about putting it on the album for fear it would scare listeners.

"But this is something I feel strongly about," Marble said. "Rape is still really a difficult subject for society to deal with.?... I didn't want to overstep bounds at all.

"I certainly wasn't going to do it from the first person."

Good lyrics, intense delivery

"Red Tornado" is, according to a news release, "a descriptor of the emotional state that each of these songs came out of, whether it be depression, frustration or high anxiety."

Overall, the songwriting is compelling and the delivery appropriately intense. Yet it calms down when the listener needs relief.

In a few places, Marble resorts to cliches, failing to twist the words enough to make the lines clever on their own. In "Salt in the Wound," he almost pulls off using two cliches to make something new with these lines:

"The salt in the wound is that progress aside/ Everybody else was made a bride."

The song is about professional jealousy among creative types, with those who don't find success drinking themselves to a slow death. It's a worthy topic - if only he had found a way to cover it without using the hackneyed phrase as a title.

At other times, the cliches are forgivable. Take "So Far," where he uses "fly in my ointment" to rhyme with disappointment.

More often, the lyrics are fresh and original, such as these lines in "The Big Words":

"Well I think if I jumped, you'd catch me/ But I am no cannonball clown/ And even though I would probably pull through fine/ I'd sure look like a fool on the way down."

Marble runs his own recording business, Fishboy Studios. But he makes his living primarily as a software programmer for music plug-ins.

In his own music, he said he's always trying to step back, listen objectively and to learn to write without the need for the "red tornado" of emotion around his songs.

"I just want people to know and have people understand that I am writing a song because I have something specific to say."

Call Serena Markstrom at 338-2371 or e-mail her at serena.markstrom@registerguard.com.

Concert preview

Leigh Marble

With: Suzanne Benorden

What: Folk-rock

When: 10 p.m. today

Where: Luckey's, 933 Olive St.

Cost: $3 to $5 sliding scale

On the Web: Hear music samples at rgweb.registerguard.com/ticketfiles
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Title Annotation:-; In a town sick with musicians, this singer has risen to the top
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 1, 2008
Words:1000
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