There were indeed notable parallels in the separate shows of singer-songwriters Allison Moorer and Sally Seltmann at World Cafe Live on Friday. But if you caught both, the defining contrasts stood out most prominently.
Alabama's Moorer was the headliner downstairs in the venue's larger room, her enthusiastic fans crowding the floor at tables below the stage. Upstairs in the club's smaller space, Australia's Seltmann had gamely played an early show at 7 p.m. (Another three-band bill played there later.) The high-voiced, occasionally breathy Seltmann proved no less charming delivering her thoughtful pop before a dozen onlookers.
Until recently, Seltmann had performed as New Buffalo. That's how she was identified when cited as the cowriter of Feist's 2007 breakout hit "1234"; Seltmann also records for the same label as Feist, Toronto's Arts and Crafts.
This year's Heart That's Pounding album was highlighted Friday, a collection of sunny songs, some hopeful (the title track) and some darker-edged ("On the Borderline"). After dispatching her drummer (and husband, Darren, who plays in the Avalanches) and cellist Jessica Venables, she closed with a sweet solo cover of "Moon River," channeling the tune's original waifish vibe as embodied by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Moorer also closed with a worthy cover, her characteristically full-bodied take on Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come." And Moorer likewise showcased a 2010 album, her new Crows. Switching between guitar and piano while Eleanor Whitmore accompanied throughout on mandolin or violin, Moorer received spousal assistance only when husband Steve Earle, busy minding their new baby offstage, emerged for a duet on their "Days Aren't Long Enough," off his Washington Square Serenade album.
The red-haired, black-booted Moorer's poise onstage contrasted with Seltmann's slight shyness. Even more differentiating was the American's broader stylistic range - covering Patti Smith's "Dancing Barefoot" and Ma Rainey's "Daddy Goodbye Blues" - and the brooding catharsis inherent in many originals (she and older sister singer Shelby Lynne lost both parents in a murder-suicide while growing up).
In addressing the oil disaster before singing her Gulf Coast home-state ode, "Alabama Song" (her 1998 debut's title track), the politically engaged Moorer was hardly demure.
"What to do? Obviously, boycott BP; send them hate mail . . . and I'd like to do this song.
"It breaks my heart that my baby may not get to play on the same beaches I did."