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Folkie Rock Star

With Namoli Brennet's latest release, Chrysanthemum, there are nine photos in the CD booklet. In all but one, you can see her face. But it's the lone photo shot of her back that is the most telling.

Brennet is faced away from the camera with a guitar slung over her left shoulder. The strings are pointed diagonally downward, and a bumper sticker is visible on the guitar's body. It reads "Support Your Local Rock Star." Brennet is clad in a T-shirt and jeans and stands with attitude.

Listen to Brennet's music, however, and you won't necessarily get the typical rock-star sound. Her music is most often labeled folk. But her persona is pure rock--with a soulful voice, spontaneous nature and fondness for funky, arty clothing.

"When I was a kid, it was my dream to be a rock star," says Brennet. "There was never any question as to what I would do. I always knew I would be a musician. It was just a question as to what form it would take."

Perhaps as Brennet laughingly suggests, she might be a rock star trapped in a folk singer's body. That clash plays out in her music, because her songs cannot be put in one genre.

With four CDs to her name, Brennet does songs that can be alt country, dance, folk, bossa nova or even rock. All of these genres are found on her 2004 release The Brighter Side of Me. "I don't restrict myself to one genre or style," she says.

Brennet's lack of restriction is also clear when she talks openly about being transgendered. She doesn't make a big deal about her gender. "It's more important for me to be a songwriter and performer. Being transgendered is one facet of me. It doesn't define me as a whole."

When defining Brennet, it's important to take a look at her past. She attended Western Connecticut State University and received a degree in composition and jazz piano. Tucson beckoned in 1994 as she moved west to study music at the UA. Completing one year of graduate school, she later supported herself by playing jazz piano. But that wasn't fulfilling.

"I was really unhappy. I realized playing jazz piano wasn't the ultimate creative expression for me. I wrote songs in my 20s. I felt called to get back to it. ... I got back into songwriting five or six years ago."

Brennet says her songwriting process is pretty organic. "I'm not the type of songwriter who says, 'I will write about this.' I show up with my guitar. ... I wait until something interesting comes along. I love playing guitar, so it's not a chore."

Brennet's love of creating music is evident as one looks at her discography: Boy in a Dress in 2002, Welcome to the Afterglow in 2003, The Brighter Side of Me in 2004 and Chrysanthemum in 2005. All albums were recorded and produced by Brennet in her home studio.

While some of Brennet's songs are based on personal experience, others are tales from a creative mind. "I have a vivid imagination. I can take a story and run with it," she says. Case in point is Chrysanthemum's "Seed." Brennet says it's a story she made up about someone's grandmother giving them advice.

If the seed falls from the tree
Let it alone
And if that seed never grows
Then that seed was wrong

As you might sit and reflect on that bit of sage counsel, "Stars" gets you thinking about why we are here.

Maybe we're just one of a million tiny galaxies
Hurling on toward some unrevealed destiny
Maybe we're somebody's unfinished symphony

Brennet says the song is about questioning one's purpose. "Lots of people do think about that (and ask), 'Am I making the most of my time here? Am I doing the right thing?'"

Tucson music fans think Brennet is doing the right thing, voting her runner-up in the 2005 TAMMIES in three categories: Up and Coming Artist of the Year, Folk Musician and Songwriter.

Brennet is happy performing at a variety of venues, ranging from the local coffee shop to pride festivals around the country. This year, she's logged about four months on the road, traveling from Providence, R.I., to Chicago, to San Diego and other towns in between.

Besides the rock-star aspiration, Brennet says she would like to help out local musicians. "I would love to be in a position to help out other Tucson songwriters. It would be great to send other people out on tour and do things to help them along."

For now, Brennet will continue to perform and make CDs. A new tour is scheduled for January. Armed with her guitar and a depth of spirit, Brennet will continue on her desired road to superstardom. A quote sums up her determination: "I am here to kick some ass on my acoustic guitar."

Namoli Brennet releases Chrysanthemum at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10 at Conrad Wilde Gallery, 210 N. Fourth Ave. Contact the gallery at 622-8997. For more about Namoli Brennet, visit namolibrennet.com.

More by Irene Messina

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