The essentials singer

Musician/songwriter Holly Brook left her Broadway dream behind to take on the world of pop


LOS ANGELES -- Listening to the piano-driven pop of Holly Brook's debut album, you would never guess the 20-year-old singer-songwriter grew up wanting to play Annie on Broadway. Like Blood Like Honey, due on Warner Bros. Records this spring, is far more nuanced than the belting, theatrical vocals she favored in her youth. And the bells and whistles of full-on stage productions have been stripped to the essentials - Brook's cashmere voice, her baby grand and a small complement of backup musicians. About the only vestige of her former Annie aspirations is her red hair, which she wears wavy rather than frizzed.

"I realized it's not about how loud you can sing," says Brook, who was forced to alter her singing style - and her dreams - after an unwelcome change of voice. "My voice became something else, and it's something I like better, now that I think about it. It's an easier voice to listen to. Soft and just not annoying."

It's this easy-listening quality that drew an unlikely fan: the multiplatinum rap-rock act Linkin Park. Not only did the Los Angeles-based group sign Brook to its Machine Shop Recordings label, but MC Mike Shinoda also featured her on his recently released solo project, Fort Minor.

The star-studded hip-hop album, The Rising Tied, features a long list of guests, including Common, John Legend, the Roots' Black Thought - and Brook. "Where'd You Go" has Brook singing the chorus in a song reminiscent of Eminem's "Stan," which sampled a song by Dido, then a little-known U.K. singer; as a result, it catapulted her to fame.

Whether Brook's appearance with Fort Minor will have the same effect remains to be seen, but Warner Bros., which released The Rising Tied as well as all five Linkin Park albums, delayed Brook's debut release, sending her on tour with Fort Minor to help build her name and a fan base.

It's a strategy that appears to be paying off, especially if you consider "television" a fan. The new NBC drama Conviction recently featured the album's opening track, "What I Wouldn't Give," as did the WB series Related.

Brook is from Mazomanie, Wis., a lakeside town best known for its nude beach, not that she has ever been there. Since age 3, when she first appeared in a local production of Camelot, her preference has been the stage.

By the time she was 6, Brook was performing with her mother at barn dances and campgrounds as a folk-music act called Generations. She wrote her first song at 8, and, after performing it at a children's music convention in New York, she was approached by singer Pete Seeger, who asked for a cassette of the song - and her autograph.

"I didn't even know he was there," Brook says, adding, "I didn't even know who he was."

She had become so committed to her songwriting that she spent her high school lunch hours in the band room working out melodies on the piano and, as a result, often missed the next class. By 15, she and her mom had recorded three albums and performed so often that Brook had earned enough money to buy a vintage baby grand piano.

That same 1913 Baldwin now inhabits the living room of Brook's Hollywood Hills home, where she moved a couple of years ago. Just before moving, Brook had been introduced to Jon Ingoldsby, who has since become her co-producer and roommate.

"The first thing that made me think I want to work with this girl had nothing to do with music," said Ingoldsby, who won a Grammy for his work on Madonna's "Ray of Light." "When we were having lunch the very first day we met, she got a fish sandwich and proceeded to put ketchup all over it. That's when I thought, `This girl's a little different.'"

Susan Carpenter writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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