Petite packages

Snide lyricist? Sweet girl of swing? Sophie Ralston’s music takes many forms

Sophie Ralston hangs out at Java Jungle.

Sophie Ralston hangs out at Java Jungle.

Photo by David Robert

Quietly rocking the coffee shops of the Biggest Little City, Sophie Ralston has made a go of being a musician outside of the bar scene. Four years ago, she decided that she was going to be a performing musician. That’s when this songstress dusted off her guitar, warmed up her voice and started writing songs.

“I got determined and didn’t let it go until I was ready to play in front of people,” Ralston says. “I’m happy I pursued it.”

Evidently, so are a lot of people. Whether she plays solo or with the Probiotics, her sometimes-band, Ralston is an act that consistently draws people out of the house. She’s not your average hippie-girl-with-guitar, either. Her music borders on many styles: jazz, blues, old country, folk and pop. Throw in some eerie harmonizer effects, a shoe-full of bitter and a healthy dose of fun sarcasm, and you almost have an impression of what to expect. While her music is on the quiet side, it’s not just ambient background noise to talk over at the bar.

“It’s the type of music where it’s more interesting to listen to the lyrics,” Ralston says, talking about why she prefers the more attentive audiences you find at coffeehouses.

She does like playing in bars, with a band, and making noise. The band was planning a CD release show for its upcoming CD, a new version of a live CD titled, A Live Sophie-size Sample. However, one third of Sophie and the Probiotics, Neil Greene, is in Chicago, and Probiotic drummer Andy Dicus has started another long semester of full-time work and school. So until further notice, Ralston will be appearing solo. The release party has been postponed.

A Live Sophie-size Sample is a great live recording from an appearance of the band at Esoteric Coffeehouse and Gallery last November. The nine tracks include “Mystery Man,” a swingin’ tune about a shallow boy; “Revelation Song,” about overcoming chronic shortness and “The Vomiting Flowers of Greenland,” a spooky one describing how girls can be so very nice and pretty, yet open their mouths and spill jealousy and meanness. Her perennial favorite, a true story of a boy in elementary school, “Poo Boy,” will be included on the version of the CD scheduled to come out this fall.

Ralston says that she generally writes about her own experiences, finding enough raw material in everyday life to keep her going. She admits she has an agenda, though, writing mostly after getting upset at the way people treat other people, the way men take women (specifically herself) for granted, and anything else that might incite her to artistic angst.

“Sometimes, they really make me mad, and I have to write about it,” Ralston says, laughing.

Solo or with the full band, Sophie Ralston is someone to hear. Haunting melodies and catchy phrases clearly set her apart from the "coffee-shop band" stereotype. Her performances are not what you expect to hear while watching her set up before a show or when talking to her casually. Although sometimes nervous in the spotlight, from the first strum of a cord, this Sophie-size musician can electrify or transfix an audience with her words and melodies.