By Ethan Brogan
INDIANA – The Dec. 16 open-mic night at The Artists Hand Gallery drew a respectable crowd. As the evening began to wind down, Alyssa R. Hankey stepped to the front of the house, set down her tie-dye and peace-sign-covered guitar case and took out a pick and a brass slide. The coffeehouse chatter faded as she tore into a half-dozen songs from her new album, including “Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
He’s a shadow on the street,
Six-foot-four and wears a black suit
He’s tall, dark and handsome with eyes pale blue
He’s looking for a little corruption, seduction on the street
He ain’t got no fear, ain’t got no regrets
He just smokes them left-hand cigarettes.
A month earlier, Hankey, 23, of Rural Valley, released her second album, “Shadowlands,” showcasing her solo singer-songwriter cred with an even-dozen original songs, all studio-recorded locally. Hankey defines her music as folk-rock with blues and country mixed in.
In interviews, Hankey is spare with comments about her performances.
“The best part probably is, when I can get the guitar on point and when the lyrics come together,” she said in a Dec. 27 interview at The Brown Hotel.
She is succinct about technique – for example, her preference for brass over glass in her slide work, and her use of a pinky instead of a third finger.
“It’s grittier,” Hankey said.
“Jimmy Page’s playing is amazing,” Hankey said.
She took up piano, harmonica, bass and mandolin, she said. But guitar is her favorite instrument.
Off-stage, Hankey is a graphic designer, a profession for which she earned an art degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 2015. Her Facebook page lists additional day jobs, including chocolatier, barista and freelance graphic artist.
Hankey’s graphic artistry is exhibited on her guitar. The front of it is covered with her drawings and etchings of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles.
Inscribed on the back is a sentence attributable to Woody Guthrie and his guitar: “This machine kills fascists.”
“It’s kind of fitting,” Hankey said. “Music does kill the bad vibes. It has a lot of power to it.”
FANS FEEL the power.
Don Henry, host of “Unkle Don’s Rockin’” show on WIUP-FM (90.1), described Hankey’s music as “authentic.”
“She has a raw, growling sensibility,” Henry said in a Jan. 8 interview in Indiana. “Her lyrics push. It’s a guttural emotion that comes from deep down.”
Henry’s wife, Lori, chimed in: “She sounds like Janis Joplin.”
James W. Zimmerman, 22, an IUP computer science major, saw Hankey play at The Artists Hand on Nov. 10.
“She was amazing to watch,” Zimmerman said in a Jan. 5 phone interview.
IN SEPTEMBER, Hankey completed a tour through New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia, promoting her new album. The tour concluded with a show at The Artists Hand. On Jan. 5, she opened for Raelyn Nelson, Willie Nelson’s granddaughter, at Club Café in Pittsburgh, an evident thrill.
On her Facebook page, Hankey posted: “Had the pleasure of opening up for Willie Nelson’s Granddaughter and her awesome band @raelynnelsonband! Got to hang backstage and she even gave me a cool bracelet made from guitar strings. We also agreed that Skoal Wintergreen is our favorite chew.”
Upcoming performances include Jan. 21 at the RGB Bar and Grill in Indiana.
“I’d like to push music as far as it can go,” Hankey said.
How far can she go? A recording contract?
“It’s all kind of random,” Hankey said. “Something goes viral and people get signed.”
Ethan C. Brogan, a senior majoring in journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Pittsburgh.