Having played to about 28 million people during the 2014 Grammy Awards telecast, Mary Lambert isn’t exactly an unknown. But at 25, and with only two EPs to her name, she’s still an emerging artist, and having her follow the explosive Afrobeat of Seun Kuti on the Vancouver Folk Music Festival main stage on July 20 was a considerable act of faith on the part of artistic director Linda Tanaka.
In hindsight, it also looks like brilliant programming. After Kuti’s impassioned ranting on “VIP” and “IMF”—regarding “vagabonds in power” and “international motherfuckers”, respectively—Lambert’s vulnerability, high spirits, and melodic grace provided aural and emotional balm.
Those aforementioned EPs don’t really convey how good a singer and pianist the 25-year-old Seattle resident has become; in her ability to command the stage while retaining an intimate connection with her audience she’s occasionally reminiscent of a young Sarah McLachlan.
But it’s her words that stand out. “Pistolwhip”, her spoken-word story of a young woman fleeing an abusive relationship, brought some in the audience to tears, after which “Secrets”, the first single from Lambert’s as-yet-unreleased debut album, had everyone smiling over her funny and frank revelations. (Sample lyric: “I’ve got bipolar/disorder/my shit’s not/in order.”)
In last week’s Georgia Straight cover story, which she enthused over from the stage, Lambert contended that art could be “commercially viable and also change the world”.
We’ve seen that happen before, and based on the response Lambert received on Sunday night, we might be about to see it again.