It's a rare summer scorcher in Seattle, and Belltown streets are stirring. A parade is about to kick off a few streets east and Third Avenue is already lined with chairs—families fighting for the spot with the best view. Inside Bedlam Coffee the opening notes of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' new cut "Same Love," fill the room.
MARY LAMBERT With The Cellar Door and Really Old Airplanes. The Crocodile, 2200 Second Ave., 441-4618, thecrocodile.com. $8 adv./$10 DOS. All ages. 8 p.m. Wed., Aug. 29.
The story goes like this: Straight white rapper writes song in support of gay marriage, unknown lesbian singer adds hook, and the buzz begins. But on this afternoon, it's not the MC's controversial verses—pointing the finger at rap and religion for being out of touch—sparking conversation.
"You know the girl who sings on this track is a Belltown local, right?" one barista chimes in.
"Yeah. She comes in here all the time."
A native of south Everett, 23-year-old Mary Lambert has been making noise in the local scene since graduating from Cornish College of the Arts last year. In addition to being an aspiring musician, she is an accomplished slam poet, with accolades that include competing in Russell Simmons' Brave New Voices International Competition and being named Seattle's 2011 Grand Poetry Slam Champion and the 2012 Northwest Regional Slam winner.
"I think when I found [spoken word] I was really frustrated in the church and coming out and being in that really weird place." says Lambert. "And I just wanted to swear a lot."
Known for her compelling words, poignant arrangements and soulful delivery, Lambert is a perfectionist in all sense of the word—something that's had her working on her debut EP, Letters Don't Talk, for more than two years. But when the Macklemore camp called saying they needed a voice to tie "Same Love" together, she jumped at the chance.
"I feel like I had spent my entire life training for that moment," Lambert says.
A dynamic writer, whose childhood consisted of making songs up on the spot, Lambert excels in high-pressure situations. Whether it be sweet talking customers as a bartender and server, or crafting poetic verses for a new song or slam, she knows how to make it sound right.
"I think it's just that feeling of being a performer and wanting everything to sound flawless," Lambert explains.
Or, she concedes, she's just really good at faking it—a claim that's hard to believe when hearing the passion and thoughtfulness with which she sings.
"She just has an immense amount of love radiating from her personality, and that's the best type of person to work with," Macklemore adds. "It's rare, you get that type of person in the studio."
Letters Don't Talk, available now on Bandcamp, and in physical format starting Sept. 1, is starkly different than her verse on "Same Love"—playing to the quieter, more delicate features of her vocal palate. But the standout is the intricately produced "I Know Girls (Body Love)," a pulsing song-poem that has Lambert dropping lines about self-image over thundering bass line and a throbbing beat.
"The funny thing is women like us don't shoot, we swallow pills, still wanting to be beautiful at the morgue, still proceeding to put on makeup, still hoping that the mortician finds us fuckable and attractive," Lambert spits on the track.
The arrangement slants disjunctive, but the message does not: Lambert's songs, like the singer herself, are tender and bold, heartfelt and heartbreaking.