Given that she grew up in Missouri and Alabama, Amy Black should not have had to move to Boston to fall in love with Southern roots music. But that’s how it happened.
When her father, a minister, moved the family north to take a church in Boston, the teenage Black was exposed to artists such as Massachusetts icon Bonnie Raitt, who mixes elements of blues, rock, folk, and country into her strong-woman’s vocal style.
“That really grabbed me,’’ Black recalled last week. After hearing John Hiatt’s composition “A Thing Called Love,’’ a song that Raitt made the charts with, Black asked herself, “Where has this music been?’’
She went to college at Northeastern, and went on to a successful career in marketing, including her current position with the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the state’s economic development agency for renewable energy projects. She says she “started late’’ as a professional musician.
Now 40 and living in Somerville to stay close to the Boston scene, Black said she has only been pursuing music seriously for five years.
“You’re never too far,’’ she said. “There’s always a chance to make something happen.’’
Hers is not a typical approach to a career based on recording, making the charts, playing on concert tours and local dates in clubs such as the South Shore Folk Music Club in Kingston, where will be performing at 8 p.m. Saturday.
“I had a career, a very good career,’’ she said. The urge to perform “started simply. I’m very ambitious. I like to make things happen. I go after it whole-hearted. I discovered I can write songs.’’
That determination to make things happen helps her to identify with the hard-living characters in her songs. “I believe that we get one chance in life,’’ Black said. “Every day, with everything we do and every decision we make, we’ve got to make it count. Part of making it count is facing up to the truth. . . . That’s what the characters in my songs are trying to do - tell the truth.’’
Backed by her band’s acoustic guitar, fiddle, upright bass, and electric guitar, her songs tell of characters “born from adversity.’’ American roots music concerns itself with “loving, lying, drinking, dying, and going to heaven,’’ Black said. “Sounds kind of sad, but that level of honesty can be refreshing.’’
Roots music artists of varying descriptions have been telling the truth at the South Shore Folk Music Club, a nonprofit all-volunteer organization presenting traditional and contemporary folk and acoustic music programs since 1978.
The club’s members book and organize the performance schedule, which consists of one concert by a recognized headliner and one “coffeehouse’’ date, including an open mike for developing musicians, each month.
Glenn Thayer of Plymouth booked Black after hearing her recent CD. “She has strong country roots,’’ Thayer said. “But it’s not typical country. She has a bit of an edge to it.’’
He also helps set up the club’s equipment and run the sound board, Thayer said. And he’s looking forward to a March show featuring Charlie Farren, formerly of Fahrenheit, and Jon Butcher.
“Both are phenomenal guitar players and fantastic storytellers,’’ he said.
Some of the club’s volunteers, such as Stephen and Ellen Milt of Plymouth, who do publicity, have been involved for 30 years.
The volunteer-run Boston Area Coffeehouse Association says “many major artists got their start’’ on the region’s active coffeehouse circuit.
Black appears to have gone major fast, according to reviewers of her first commercial album, released in April. “The Boston-based singer seemingly came out of nowhere with her surprising mix of country and rock on the album ‘One Time,’ ’’ said Modern Acoustic magazine. “She quickly gained fans both near and far.’’
Some critics put her album on their best-of-the-year lists. “Black seamlessly blends country, folk, rock and soul on her intoxicatingly enjoyable new album,’’ wrote Jeffrey Sisk in the Daily News. “It was jumping out of my speakers the first time I heard it,’’ a WUMB radio station reviewer attested.
The American roots music she performs and writes herself intoxicates her as well, Black said.
“That’s how I feel about this music. It kind of speaks to my soul. Being a part of that music . . . the best moments in life are my music,’’ she said. “It’s almost like a spiritual experience. You don’t have to have Southern roots to love it.’’
This month’s coffeehouse at the South Shore club is Jan. 20, and will feature country music band Ward Hayden and Company, and Janet Field, a country-folk performer who has been compared to Mary Chapin Carpenter.
Open mike performers are asked to sign up in person when the club opens its doors at 7:30 p.m.; open mike slots recently were expanded from 5 to 8 minutes.
Robert Knox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.