Yeah, she’s only 14, but singer/guitarist Shannon Curfman is no typical teen act. Her barroom-worthy brand of blues-rock is more Sheryl Crow than Christina Aguilera. And on her debut album, ”Loud Guitars and Big Suspicions” – No. 5 on Billboard’s blues chart after 32 weeks – Curfman chose to pen most of her own tunes instead of farming them out to hit-making songwriters. Sure, the latter route has well served the chart-topping likes of ‘N Sync, Britney Spears, and the Backstreet Boys, who’ve relied on producer Max Martin’s Swedish pop collective, but Curfman wants success on her own rock-hewn terms. ”I’d love to have a pop hit,” she tells EW Online, ”but with the sound that I have.” (Her new video – ”I Don’t Make Promises (I Can’t Break)” – premieres on the Disney Channel Monday at 5:55 p.m.)
Though Curfman’s debut hasn’t yet set the pop charts afire, she’s earning kudos that Christina and Britney can only dream of. Her guitar strumming has been praised by her Arista Records label mate Carlos Santana, not to mention Chicago bluesman Buddy Guy. And her raspy grrrl-power growl has earned comparisons to Bonnie Raitt, Janis Joplin, and even Chaka Khan. In fact, Kevin Murphy, one of Curfman’s band mates, is a founding member of Khan’s former funk-rock outfit Rufus.
These vintage influences have no doubt helped Curfman court a more seasoned fan base. But some – including us – wonder how a rosy-cheeked ingenue from Fargo, N.D., can so convincingly sing lyrics like ”Love ain’t worth the tears sometimes/ There’s nothing left in this heart of mine” and ”I smell you on my fingertips/… you’re the love I can’t forget.”
”Everybody has had a broken heart,” explains Curfman, who is homeschooled by her parents and was only recently allowed to start dating. ”Whether it’s because you like the blond guy in ‘N Sync and realize that you’re never gonna meet him or because your favorite Barbie’s head popped off.” And now – faster than you can say ”Britney loves Justin” – Curfman is being romantically linked with her musical peers: Jonny Lang, another Fargo blues-rock prodigy (and stud-status teen idol), and one of the Hanson boys. But Curfman says that Lang, who cowrote a song on ”Loud,” is ”more like a brother.” And as for the Hanson angle, she responds coyly, ”I’m not saying anything.”
The only love that Curfman will cop to is the romance of the road – which is fortunate, since she’ll be on tour through August, making stops in Kansas City, Minneapolis, Nashville, and other major cities. ”I like to go on stage and let people see what we actually do,” she says, ”so people can know that we’re not a studio band, that we can really play live.” It’s a job Curfman is used to: at 7, she started performing at local talent shows and coffeehouses, and she’s come to enjoy everything from ”looking out into the crowd and seeing people actually singing your songs” to staying in hotel rooms ”because you don’t have to make up your bed.” Hmmmm, maybe she’s a typical teen after all.