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Two old souls

Local musicians channel retro soul on recent release

Two local musicians are following in the footsteps of contemporary artists such as Sharon Jones and Amy Winehouse by turning back the clock, with a sound that conjures images of beehive hairdos and doo-woping backup singers.

Tara Priya, a singer and pianist from Los Altos, and her songwriting partner, Mountain View multi-instrumentalist Jason Cirimele, have just self-released an EP of retro soul tunes, titled "Tara Priya."

Priya grew up in Los Altos, where she first picked up piano at age 4, and began training to be an opera singer when she was 11 years old. In high school she took a liking to jazz and frequently dreamed of a career in music. She is currently living in Los Angeles.

Some of Jason's earliest memories are of his tiny hands pounding on a piano and clutching drumsticks. These days his main instrument is guitar, although he can play bass, drums and keyboards, and is familiar with music production software. When he isn't playing he teaches music at Peninsula School in Menlo Park.

On Nov. 15, the duo performed a stripped-down version of two tunes from their new six-song debut at Red Rock Coffee. Old friends, other open mic musicians and coffee shop patrons listened intently as Cirimele wove jazzy chords and bluesy pentatonic flourishes together with the gritty earth-tone of his Fender Stratocaster.

Priya demonstrated a great range, jumping easily from deep and sultry soul, up to a trembling, frail falsetto coo, all the way back down to an assertive Aretha-esque growl. Hoop bracelets jangled on her thin arms.

The 22-year-old singer and 23-year-old guitarist began writing the album in February and began recording in April. It wasn't long before Priya began touring -- around the Bay Area, New York, Los Angeles and Miami -- bringing along Cirimele when he had time, and using Craigslist and friends of friends to pull together the rest of the band.

"I still feel like it happened too slowly," said Priya, whose goal is to make a living as a touring musician.

Both Priya and Cirimele are fans of a variety of genres, but said that soul particularly resonates with both of them.

"I love old soul," Cirimele said, noting that he learned to play the guitar listening to soul, blues and classic rock records. "I love the way it feels. I love the textures -- the grit."

"There's no other sound that makes me feel as deeply," Priya said.

Right now, Cirimele said he is enjoying teaching a lot, but at the moment he is really enjoying playing with Priya.

Priya also has a contingency plan -- before she started pursuing music full time she worked in finance. However, while she acknowledged the challenges of being a full time musician, her plan is to continue forging on as a singer.

"I wake up all the time with a song in my head," she said. "What am I going to do if I can't write that and perform it?"

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