8 Female Musicians From Upstate New York You Should Be Listening To Right Now

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I wanted to be a rock star. I bought the requisite gear, put an ad up on Craigslist and waited. Eventually, I connected with three like-minded souls—a female lead singer/rhythm guitarist, a badass bassist (he’d lost his arm to a cluster bomb in the Bosnian War) and the best drummer I’ve ever played with, who hailed from Buffalo—and became the lead guitarist/backing vocalist. We called ourselves OFFICERBLUE (after the XTC song), rented a practice space, wrote songs together, played shows all over Brooklyn, did a professional photo shoot and released an EP (you can still find it on Spotify). It really felt like we were going somewhere.

We played our farewell show—none of us knew it at the time—at a buzzing Brooklyn venue, which has since been gutted and is now part of Vice headquarters. But for about 45 minutes that night, I was in rock heaven, playing and singing my heart out to a sizable crowd of hipsters, parents and significant others. And then, just like that, it was over.

Unlike OFFICERBLUE, these local bands and solo artists are still “living the dream.” Did I mention that they’re all either women solo artists or female-fronted bands? I hope they all find success out there in the cluttered world of streaming services and endless touring. And I hope you become a fast fan of their wonderful work, just as I did, putting this list together.

Girl Blue – I caught Albany’s Arielle O’Keefe (a.k.a. Girl Blue) opening for Justin Townes Earle at Caffè Lena this past December, and I was immediately hooked. (In some ways, her act was even stronger than the headliner’s.) The room fell eerily silent during her set, because the gathered crowd knew they were in the presence of something special. At the time, it was just her and a guitar, but if you listen to her growing catalog—say, 2017’s seven-song set, I Am Not a Star, or 2018’s single “Lolita”—you get a better feel for her style: a minimalist electro-pop faux fur coat draped over the shoulders of her powder-keg powerful vocals.

Belle-Skinner – Originally hailing from Upstate New York but now based in Brooklyn, Maria Brosgol, who goes by the stage name Belle-Skinner, plays lushly orchestrated indie-folk, accompanied by a classical guitar. (See Joan Baez, Nick Drake and the depresso side of Paul Simon.) Take some time with her seven-song set, We Shut Our Eyes (2016), which will leave you wanting a whole lot more. As luck would have it, she’s launched an IndieGoGo page to finance for her as-yet-untitled debut album (she’s more than halfway to her goal).

Maryleigh Roohan – If you were one of the lucky ones to get ahold of Saratogian Maryleigh Roohan’s 2014 album Skin and Bone, then read no further. You already know what’s up. But for those of you unfamiliar with the folk-ified/alt-country singer-songwriter, you’re in for a major treat. She followed that first record up with a five-song EP, Living Alone (2015), and has since released dribs and drabs. (Maybe there’s another full-length in the making? Fingers crossed if there is.) So what if she relocated to Los Angeles? She’s still Saratoga’s to boast about.

Candy Ambulance -A female-fronted grunge band from Saratoga, you say? Sign me right the eff up. Definitely cut from the same cloth as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs—with a hefty helping of distortion à la Nirvana, the Sub Pop years—Candy Ambulance will knock your socks off, pour gasoline all over your bare feet and light them ablaze. The band’s catalog currently consists of 2016’s six-song I Feel Fantastic, a few singles and then last year’s Spray, another satisfyingly scorching six songs.

Julia Alsarraf – Originally from Houston, TX, but an RPI grad who stuck around in Troy, Alsarraf has been making the rounds on the local scene (she played the City Art Fair in Albany last September) and dropped in for a session on local radio station 97.7 WEXT last September. (As far as I can tell, that’s the only recorded music she has online at the moment.) That’s where we discovered her powerful, soulful vocals, which seamlessly cross genre lines. She’s also been part of a duo called Left to Write, which has a number of recorded songs to its name. Click on the WEXT link to hear her wonderful set.

Zan & The Winter Folk – When I was growing up, Troy was known for its hardcore scene (i.e. Troycore). But it’s quickly become a magnet for indie musicians, each of whom bring a different level of expertise to the table. If there were ever a contest for “Best Guitarist Name,” Zan Strumfeld would win, hands down. Her and her bluegrass/folk band, aptly named The Winter Folk, released a delightful three-song EP, Your Girl No More, last year (check out “In the Kitchen”), and the year before, Strumfeld released her own solo debut, Book of Belonging (also worth an e-spin). Plus, she’s a freelance writer during the day, so that tips her over the edge for me (I’m kind of biased).

Taylor Wing – Having returned recently from a two-week getaway in Hawaii, where I came this close to buying a ukulele, I’m now having uke withdrawal. I think I need to get a hold of one. But until then, I’ll be listening to the incredibly talented Taylor Wing (just 22), who strums a mean uke and accompanies it with her cathedral quality pipes. When you listen to Wing’s stuff, I’d suggest investing in a seatbelt for that desk chair. ‘Cause you’re gonna be blown away.

The Sea The Sea – Have you been waiting for the next Phantogram to spring out of Upstate New York? Look no further. Troy’s The Sea The Sea—originally a duo consisting of Mira Stanley and Chuck E. Costa, which has since ballooned into a quartet—is just what the doctor ordered. But unlike the mostly one-sided (female) vocals of Phantogram, The Sea The Sea weaves together a latticework of harmonies between Stanley and Costa that remind me at times of the Civil Wars (when they were still together), and at others, middle aughts indies such as Band of Horses. If you’re wondering about their complete oeuvre, it’s spectacular: Get ready to spend forever with 2014’s Love We Are We Love, 2016’s In The Altogether and 2018’s From the Light.

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