It took Mexican singer-songwriter Ximena Sariñana but one song to transcend any on-paper expectations at the World Cafe Live on Sunday. Returning for her first headlining show - she opened for Sia here in August - the Guadalajara-born, biculturally raised musician confidently knocked out "Love Again" from her recent self-titled second album, bouncing behind her keyboards while emoting on the mike. (Recorded in Los Angeles, Ximena Sariñana is her first album in English and the follow-up to her strong 2008 all-Spanish debut disc, Mediocre, which garnered both regular and Latin Grammy nominations.)
The Cat Power and Fiona Apple comparisons one may have read concerning Sariñana seemed a stretch. A different, noncontemporary citation sounded more apt: Carole King. Even her older Spanish songs had Sariñana, 26, occasionally evoking King's tangy tone, singing notes tinged with heartache but never overbearing.
She also broke with certain shared tendencies in phrasing among female Latin alterna-pop/rock vocalists that can make, say, even top stars like Mexico's accomplished Julieta Venegas and Andrea Echeverri, the veteran front woman for Colombia's Aterciopelados, sound similar.
Delivered with self-effacing charm, Sariñana's welcome setup for every song (which mitigated the language divide) suggested a streamlined episode of VH1's Storytellers with, as she noted, a bit of "Spanish 101." Her comfort onstage was obvious even as she shared deep insecurities about songwriting - still new to her, in either language - and the expressions of emotional intensity therein. (Unlike her stints touring in Mars Volta guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López's alt-prog side projects, she shared the spotlight with only a backing drummer and guitarist.)