August 13, 2009

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Lo Key has high hopes
Three voices showcased at Sky Lounge
By Katie Beth Ryan music@hippopress.com

Few full-time engineers have either the time or the patience at the end of the day to devote to other endeavors, much less begin a record label. But Randy Alston, an engineer at BAE Systems in Nashua, has taken on the responsibility of working with up-and-coming artists, in addition to a 40-hour workweek.

The indefatigable Alston is the brains behind Lo Key Productions, a startup record label based in Nashua that is spearheading the careers of three very different but very talented female singers, two in southern New Hampshire and one based on Cape Cod. Melissa “Shattered” Bourke, Cari Unruh and Samantha “Sam” Russo will all perform their original songs during a showcase at the Sky Lounge in Nashua at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 14.

The fact that Alston has taken female artists under his wing is a natural consequence of growing up in a family with seven sisters, for whom he began writing songs at age 11.

“They always played a dominant role and tried to tell me what to do,” he said.

Alston has a more easygoing working relationship with the three women currently signed to Lo Key. Introduced to Alston through a mutual friend, Bourke said that Alston has respected her creative freedom while steering her to prominence in the New England music scene.

“I find that Randy is very straightforward,” she said. “He’s wiling to listen to what I have to say. He gives me creative freedom…. He’s not just a name. He’s a fantastic person to work with as well.”

Like Alston, the three artists of Lo Key have significant responsibilities outside the music studio. Russo is a rising sophomore studying broadcast journalism at Emerson College, while Unruh works with Alston at BAE Systems, trying to balance motherhood with a full-time job and a music career on the side.

Unruh describes her sound as the most spiritually oriented of the three, having grown up singing in church choirs, and is pursuing a hybrid easy listening and contemporary Christian career. While the southern New Hampshire scene doesn’t boast many female musicians, Unruh says she’s not intimidated.

“It doesn’t seem like there’s a whole lot of female singers out there,” Unruh said. “It seems like there are more male solo artists, more male bands. I think there is definitely an opportunity there. I think it’s exciting, because it’s needed in this area.”

For Russo, the road to Lo Key began at Nashua High School North, where she was involved with theater productions. A class trip to New York City to see Wicked on Broadway made her think about singing as well.

Russo said that she aims for a soulful sound, along the lines of singers like Beyonce. But she admits that Nashua can be a difficult place to launch a music career.

“When you think of California, you think of Hollywood, celebrities,” Russo said. “When you think of New Hampshire, or even Boston, you don’t think of Hollywood or celebrities. You think of sports.”

For that reason, Russo says, she intends to focus on earning her degree and finding a job in journalism, instead of relying solely upon music for financial support. But she’s also determined to give music a try, as she has a strong voice in spite of her short stature.

“When people first hear me sing, they’re like, ‘Whoa, I wasn’t prepared for that,’” Russo said.

Of the three, currently Bourke is the only one who is a full-time musician, both as the lead singer of the cover band Shattered and now in her new solo career with Lo Key.

“It’s always a struggle being a musician, but if it’s in your heart, it’s always fun,” Bourke said. “That’s the approach I take. It’s fun along the way, and if you don’t make it, I’m still doing what I love.”

Melissa Bourke, Sam Russo and Cari Unruh will perform at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 14, at the Sky Lounge, at 522 Amherst St. in Nashua. For more information, visit www.lokeyproductions.com or call 589-2414. You can listen to the voices of Lo Key at their respective MySpace sites: www.myspace.com/samanthalynnrusso, www.myspace.com/melissashattered, and www.myspace.com/cariunruh.

Ladies of Lo Key
Where: Sky Lounge, 522 Amhert St. in Nashua
When: Friday, Aug. 14, at 8:30 p.m.
Info: See www.lokeyproductions.com or www.skyloungenh.com.