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Graig Markel

Graig Markel, the lead singer and founder of Seattle's New Sweet Breath, explores the places your mind goes when it's late at night and you've spent too much time alone examining your problems. His solo work bears little resemblance to New Sweet Breath's high energy pop-punk, ranging instead from introspective stripped-down ballads to mature rockers. All of his songs are infused with a touch of soul and a crystalline honesty that leave you warm and a bit unsettled. In all his songs, Markel seems to be yearning for something, balancing bouts of emptiness and anger.

Markel, who also plays guitar for Tagging Satellites, first ventured out on his own in 1999 with his five-song November/December EP. Soon after, he released his first LP, Verses on Venus. "Better Lost Than Gone" has more instrumentation than most of the other songs on the album, but the focus is still on Markel's soulfully plaintive voice. "Winter Never Saw Better Light" sounds like the meeting of Randy Newman and D'Angelo, with its smooth vocals, delicate guitar, and lilting keyboard flourishes.

Actually, Newman meets D'Angelo isn't a bad way of thinking about most of Markel's music, which combines the confessional singer-songwriter approach and the slick processed soul tendencies of the '70s. That's exactly the way he comes at the songs on his second LP, Hard Grammar (2001). From that album, "D'Azz" is a sensual slow-burning shoo-be-doo-wop torch song and "Live Without It" a rollicking pale-faced R&B number.