That waiflike purr

Driving around Folsom as an outsider is like getting dropped randomly into a labyrinth. One rainy night a couple years back, I ended up wandering for hours in a disoriented samsara loop of strip malls and starter castles. Not fun.

It’s a Grind, however, is pretty easy to find, on the boulevard into Old Folsom off Highway 50, at Blue Ravine Road. It’s Saturday night, and the music is about to start. Autumn Sky, slated to play, chats with two friends awaiting some musical compadres. “I’m bringing the ’70s back,” she says when asked about her outfit, a gray flower-print empire dress with black sparkly leggings, which she says she found at Forever 21.

Welcome to the town square, 21st-century style. It’s a Grind isn’t Starbucks, which is to say it’s a modern coffee joint with a bit more soul, one of those slightly overdesigned terra-cotta and pastel-olive places with a corrugated-metal back bar, a fireplace in the corner and a big painting of Ray Charles on the wall near where the musicians set up once they arrive.

Around 7:40 p.m., the copper-haired Sky, playing an acoustic Taylor cutaway, lights into “Rockets,” an original that sounds kinda like a Cat Stevens tune filtered through Leslie Feist. She’s accompanied on bass by Evan Palmer, a Jeff Buckley-lookalike who, like Sky, is a regular on the local open-mic scene. Kayla Schureman, Palmer’s bandmate in the duo All On Seven, plays drums. After a couple more originals, Sky segues into “Everybody’s Changing,” a Keane cover.

One risk singer-songwriters take when playing such covers, with strong melodies, is juxtaposing them with their own possibly less-interesting songs. But Sky has a definite talent for melody and structure, and her original songs—eight of them in her 50-minute set, including a couple of ballads with Palmer backing her on electric piano—come off quite favorably.

And now for the bad news: First, the house P.A., to paraphrase the late Hunter S. Thompson, sounds like it was set up by a sheriff’s auxiliary technician on leave; Sky’s dusky voice, a coffeehouse-friendly instrument somewhere between Sinéad O’Connor, Jewel and Joanna Newsom, often hits needle-in-the-red territory. It’s too bad, because that makes her lyrics hard to hear.

Also, Sky tends to dip into a bag of tricks, vocally; while she’s not all over the musical road like a drunken muezzin with the melisma, à la American Idol, she does throw her voice skyward—an O’Connor trait—a little too much, or swerve into a waiflike purr. There’s something to be said for just singing a melody straight and letting the music do the heavy lifting.

Sky (and Palmer, too) can be seen on any given weeknight open-mic—e.g., Monday at the Fox & Goose, Tuesday at the True Love Coffeehouse, Wednesday at Old Ironsides, Thursday at Coffee Garden. But performers at those venues only get two or three songs, and sometimes it’s easy to overlook them, then get surprised later when their CDs are out and they’re leaving town for greener pastures. Sky’s busy working on her disc, and you can hear some of it at