Sam Misner and Megan Smith's harmony-laden repertoire ranges from finger-picking ballads to acoustic rock. - Photo courtesy of Duncan Smith

Heavy on hope and harmonies

San Francisco's Misner & Smith lyrically retain the storytelling side of folk while leaving some margin for their inspired harmonies.

The duo that is Sam Misner (guitar) and Megan Smith (upright bass and mandolin) uses traditional and contemporary American roots music to frame their complementary vocals.

"Vocal harmonies and lyrics are central to what we are doing," Misner says. "We're often compared to Crosby, Stills and Nash; Simon & Garfunkel; and Buffalo Springfield. I think it's our style of songwriting. It isn't just folk, and it's not straigtht rock 'n' roll."

The pair will perform acoustic originals at 8 p.m. Thursday, April 5, at Alex's Plaza Restaurant, 35 N. Main St., Ashland.

Misner and Smith met eight years ago as actors in a production of "Woody Guthrie's American Song." Their vocal chemistry was evident from the start, Misner says.

"The first time we sang together, we looked at each other and were like, 'Wow, this is something special,' " he says.

In the last few years, their acting careers have taken a backseat to their music.

"As actors we're dependent on other people to give us work, but as a duo we can kind of make our own work," Misner says.

Last year, the duo managed to perform more than 100 shows, including several house concerts in Seattle and Portland. Misner says house concerts are becoming a practical means for independent artists to make a little extra money in a bad economy.

In contrast to these small, intimate gatherings, Misner & Smith filled nearly 250 seats at the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley, Calif., in January 2010. A live recording of this concert, "Live at the Freight & Salvage," released later that year, can be heard on the duo's website, www.misnerandsmith.com. The album contains songs from their previous two albums, "Poor Player" and "Halfway Home," including the song "Madeline (Paradise Cracked)," which was awarded Song of the Year in 2007 by the West Coast Songwriters Association.

Stories comprise the bulk of Misner's poetic but not preachy lyrics, and his fictional, first-person narratives all contain the same underlying theme — hope.

In the coming months, Misner & Smith will record their third studio album and conduct their second tour of the U.K. alongside acoustic folk duo Breeze and Wilson.

There is no cover to the show at Alex's. Call 541-482-8818.

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