Donuts and Dogs With Shelby Earl

The singer proves it's never too late to find one's voice.

Folk-tinged singer/songwriter Shelby Earl is creating a whirlwind inside Top Pot’s Capitol Hill locale, but so far all she’s done is order a chocolate-coconut donut and an Americano. KEXP’s Kurt Reighley drops by to give her a personally inscribed copy of his new book on Americana. The Long Winters’ Eric Corson, who has contributed to Earl’s upcoming disc, happens to wander in and greets her joyfully. Patrons turn from their laptops, curious why the woman with chestnut bangs and dangling rhinestone earrings is generating so much attention. Perhaps it’s time Earl gets used to being noticed.

“I wrote my first song at 29 or 30,” says the 34-year-old Earl when quiet resumes. “It took me awhile to know what I wanted to say. But now I sound like me.”

A lucky REVERB audience will discover more about who that is. So far, the rich splendor of Earl’s vocals, acoustic guitar, and elegiac lyrics (“But ask me to stay/And I’ll fall away/’Cause I am made of sand”) has engendered swooning from both listeners and peers.

“She’s a smoldering talent,” says The Long Winters’ John Roderick, who is producing Earl’s solo debut. (She was previously half of the duo The Hope, which garnered acclaim with their release In the Deep.) And during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, Earl surpassed her $5,000 goal on Kickstarter—a site that allows artists to collect donations for projects—by a whopping $1,065. All of which is a nice reward for ditching her Amazon job to fully commit to the record. (No, she’s not mooching while you toil: She now works at Serafina—she’s a hostess—which allows more flexibility.)

With tracking underway and mixing and mastering slated for late fall, Earl hopes to have the record out in early 2011. Which would be ideal, as she has February and March shows booked in England, Ireland, and France. The downside? Yet again, Earl’s music will postpone her long-planned puppy adoption.

“I totally perv out on!” she says and laughs. “My brother has the sweetest Pekingese, and if I’m ever home, I want to get one, too.” She scoops her phone from her bag and shares a photo of the rescue dog she recently almost acquired. “I would have named him ‘Mr. Bingley,’ from Pride and Prejudice, who’s so good-natured,” she says wistfully.

Her eventual pup will be a fortunate creature indeed.