Though singer-songwriter Tara Williamson has taken a winding path — geographically and stylistically — in her career, she credits some of her professional musical pursuits back to her stint in the Portland region.
Williamson had moved to the metro area in 2007 after she had been living in Northern California and was looking for a fresh start. What she found was a new community in music, first as part of Portland Community College's Jazz Singers program.
Soon she was frequenting Tony's Starlight Lounge, then on Northeast Sandy Boulevard in Portland, and finding herself amid musicians she admired and who guided her.
"They were instrumental into me developing skills and getting back into music in general," Williamson says. "They helped me decide where my career was going."
During those early visits, she was struck by the ambiance of the lounge, as well as the impressive talent of the artists coming through the venue.
"I saw this red velvet curtain and this big silver starlight … I said, 'I'm going to be on that stage,'" Williamson says. "The Bureau of Standards Big Band was the first thing I saw there, and I said to myself, 'I want to be in that band,' and two years later I was fronting it, so it was really cool."
Williamson also went on to sing with The Signatures, a four-part, all-female vocal group she also esteemed after seeing them perform at the Lounge.
Williamson, who now lives in Austin, Texas, recently released an EP, "Evolution One." It's actually part of a four-part series coming out over the next couple months, culminating in the release of the full 13-song Evolution album in December.
The album's sound moves away from her jazzy routes and explores Americana, country and even a bit of electronic music.
"It really goes through the evolution of my influences and from track to track you don't know what's going to be next," Williamson says. "It's all over the place, but really cohesive at the same time somehow."
The cohesion comes through lyrical themes of self-reflection and self-understanding.
"The picture that I get of myself through all of these things is clearer, so I hope that any message that connects with (listeners) through the music will help them see themselves better in their own changes and evolutions," she explains. "A lot of the messages are ones that I needed to hear for myself."
To celebrate the release of the album, she'll be making a stop in Gresham to host an intimate living-room performance in the home of a family friend. She will also be stopping in Portland for a similar show.
Williamson's mother moved to the area shortly after Williamson did, and has since set up roots of her own; she lives in Troutdale with her husband and has worked at Gresham Ford for years.
"(She and her husband) are very involved in community, and have always included their friends (with following) my music," Williamson says. "So I feel very connected."