Just about two and half years ago I wandered into Hollywood’s Hotel Café and joined a sparse early audience. A young woman in torn shorts, old t-shirt and flip flops came on stage, obviously nervous but occasionally able to flashan impressive high wattage smile as she introduced herself as part Greek, part British and newly arrived from London. Then she sang, and I knew this was no ordinary talent.
This woman –Athena, after the Greek virgin Goddess of the arts – was far more than the underdressed waif grasping the micstand in front of me. Athena was a star in the making.
This week she was back at the Hotel Café. The high powered smile was still there, but in place of the shorts and t-shirt and flip flops was a silver lamé sheath and knee-touching high-heeled fashion-forward boots.However, more than the costume change, it was the musical change that was most impressive. Athena rolled out the songs on her debut USA album, Ready for the Sun, with a joy and confidence that lay straining beneath the surface when I first saw her but now filled the room.
Athena spent the past two and half years writing, road-testing, revising, recording and living with the 13 songs on Ready for the Sun, each one crafted with love and precisionwhile losing none of its spontaneity. The result is a debut album that should take the US market by storm – there is simply no one like Athena and this album signals the entry of a new star in the American music firmament. The live performance at Hotel Café (and presumably at Rockwood Music Hall later this week), backed up the album with an authentic experience of the artist as well as of the art.
Athena gave herself to the audience in stories, reminisces, laugher (some embarrassed), and banter that makes any live performance stand out from the recording and worth the price of admission. The music itself was raw and emotional, not smoothed off by a producer into the perfection found in the album. At times her voice caught – several times inI Don’t Know How to Say Goodbyeand Where the Wildflowers Grow as the emotion of ending and starting again both romantically and geographicallywashed over her. Despite the designer clothes and the confident bearing, Athena was herself, emotional, available, vulnerable – in short, completely human in a way that no recording can capture.
Backed by legendary producer and guitarist Michael Chaves and occasionally by her opening act Chesney Hawkes, Athena sailed through ten of the album’s 13 songs, some with a depth that quiet the room and some with an energy that had them clapping and singing. The launch party felt like a historic event (and may be, if Athena rises as fast as many think she will). And it was a party, one that began with everyone in the room singing the final song,Ready for the Sun.Athena had returned to her American beginning, with many, many happy fans.