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From THE DAILY PRESS, September 30th 2007


BY SAM McDONALD

COMMON ZENTZ:  Bob Zentz and his daughter Skye share their love of music, but explore different styles

For Bob Zentz and his daughter, Skye, the generation gap can now be measured in millimeters, not miles.

Bob is a veteran folk musician from Norfolk who specializes in songs and melodies from the age of sail. His 23-year-old daughter is a new singer-songwriter who's played her own witty, contemporary tunes in local coffee shops and at festivals.

Different styles, similar soul.

This fall, both are performing together, both introducing new CDs. Dad's "Closehauled on the Wind of A Dream" is his sixth release. Skye's "Legitimate Bohemia" is her debut.

"She was ready to do this she's been writing a lot of songs, cranking them out," Bob said. "It's very difficult for me to listen to relationship songs, but what I really like is her command of words and what she's saying ... She's always had a good ear for things, and she's always been a real fine singer."

Having cut his teeth during the folk boom of the 1960s, Bob Zentz is turned off by many young artists who are devoted solely to expressing their inner pain.

He's glad to say that Skye's songs come from a different mold. He particularly likes her tune "Persephone," which reshapes an ancient myth. "It's a relationship song, but by God it's got the Greek bard behind it," he said. "I like what she's doing, and I find it very listenable."

For her part, Skye Zentz has slowly come to terms with her dad's incurable folk addiction. That was not the case when she was younger and infatuated with pop acts such as Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey.

"In the last few years, I've found a way to get beyond my younger-generation complex," she said. For the third straight year, Skye performs several times during the Virginia State Fair currently going on in Richmond. "I'm only going to be able to play songs with my dad for so long," she said. "I want to do it now, enjoy that father-daughter bond."

Naturally, there's still a divide in their listening habits. Bob enjoys discovering a rare, centuries-old sea chantey. Skye devours such songwriters as Ani DiFranco and Rufus Wainwright.

But the gulf between their musical tastes has narrowed.

"As kids, we tend to rebel against the environment we grew up in," Skye said. "But as I've gotten older, I love it more. My dad keeps me thinking about musical history."

The new disc by Bob Zentz explores a little-known corner of nautical history. It sets to music the poems of British writer C. Fox Smith, a woman who wrote about seafaring life with unusual spirit and insight. "She has this incredible body of work that years ago was sort of discovered by members of the English folk music scene," Zentz explained. Smith's poems describe the end of the age of sail and the coming of World War I. "She witnessed the demise of all these great ships," Zentz said. "She saw this interesting point in history where technology robbed the glory of these ships."

Smith's authentic writing voice leads some scholars and enthusiasts suspect that she spent time at sea but few firm facts of her life are known. She was first published in 1897, Zentz said. At some point, she moved to Vancouver, Canada. She died in 1954.

Zentz discovered C. Fox Smith while working for The Mariners' Museum in Newport News. He immediately connected with her poetry. "If you didn't know this was a woman writing, you'd think it was a sailor himself," he said. "I became a nutso fan and started trying to find old copies of her books," he said. That obsession eventually led to "Closehauled on the Wind of a Dream."

Likewise, the debut disc from Skye Zentz was a gradually developing project. She started seriously writing songs around age 16, but most of the tunes on "Legitimate Bohemia" date from the last three years.

"Emotionally and intellectually, I've matured a bit," she said. "Before, my songs could be a little 'woe is me.' But now that I'm hitting that early 20-something period, I'm feeling like I can be more insightful, I can be more a philosopher than an emotional wreck."

Many of the songs on "Legitimate Bohemia" sound like the work of a confident, accomplished artist. Mostly acoustic and peppered with the plink of the ukulele, the tunes on the album portray scenes with fresh poetic detail. Some songs bare resemblance to the music of Suzanne Vega or the Indigo Girls.

The disc's title comes from the song "Broke, Not Broken," which describes the plight of a starving artist. It's written from true-life experience, Zentz said.

"The feeling I wanted to come across is that I'm no spoiled Daddy's girl who's had everything handed to me," she said. "I've worked hard and I've been poor. And not just poor in the monetary sense. We've all had times when friendships tend to dissipate."

Another standout track, "Little Bird," is what the songwriter describes as a feminist love song. "It asks how far are we willing to twist and contort ourselves to become what someone else would want us to be?" she said. "This little bird decides that getting caught in a cage is not worth the love of the man she was pursuing."

Those ideas come wrapped in a happy tune that's decorated with bright, Andrews Sisters-style harmonies.

Skye's father contributes lilting concertina to the track.

These days, Skye Zentz is happy to collaborate with her folkie father.

"When I first started playing out, I wanted to be just Skye [with no last name]. I didn't want to be associated with my dad or my mom." Not anymore. "We don't write the same kind of songs, and I'm not as interested in the sea as he is. But he and my mom gave me my roots ... And what better marketing and instant exposure can you get than having a father with a last name that people know?"


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