SOMERVILLE -- Not since Dar Williams rose to stardom in the early '90s has a local folk songwriter caught fire as quickly as Antje Duvekot. Her first studio CD, ``Big Dream Boulevard," is getting national airplay. And this month alone, she won the starmaking New Folk Award (past winners include Nanci Griffith and Steve Earle) at the Kerrville Folk F estival in Texas, and she was added to the lineups of both the Newport and Great Waters folk festivals.
As she performed to an adoring crowd Thursday at Johnny D's , artistic similarities with Williams were striking.
While many chattered through Phil Roy's fine opening set of sinewy, acoustic R&B, the bar was cathedral-quiet for Duvekot's 90-minute show.
Duvekot uses a natural shyness to draw people to her, and into her intricate, closely observed songs. Her honeyed mezzo sounded whispery even on high sustains, making everything she sang feel like a shared secret.
Between songs, she had a way of seeming simultaneously self-effacing and cocky. Fumbling with a mike stand, she comically shouted, ``Tech support!" She described throwing up backstage, after a boozy night at a folk festival, as ``my only rock-star moment."
Like Williams, she uses empathy as a radical weapon. But where Williams's empathy is banked in kindness, Duvekot's seems seared by remembered pain. In ``Judas," she described the lonely terror of abuse: ``Last night, Judas' s father threw his son against the wall/ That's how you learn to be invisible." In ``Dandelion," she turned her lonely memories into a resilient anthem for wallflowers everywhere. She made it a badge of honor to be a weed, a wild-growing thing, in this human garden of cultivated and unfeeling flowers.
Her lyrics are so deftly chiseled, single lines became songs unto themselves. In the somber anthem ``Hold On," she moaned, ``There's no mercy sleep under stolen sheets."
Perhaps her most important bond with Williams is her belief that some secrets do not deserve the dignity of being kept. As she flooded honest, unflinching light into the darkest corners of her life and times, she offered both solace and fellowship to all her kindred outcasts , turning loneliness into something that felt like community.