IN TUNE: Sometimes one of the best ways to build inner strength is to experience someone who has intense faith in his or her own. Witness Lina Koutrakos, a blues-rock torch singer who hasn’t met a challenge she hasn’t brought to its knees. She might do the same to you, but you’ll have to book a reservation for a rare upcoming treat.
Koutrakos and her nimble band, The Low Country, didn’t expect to play out the rest of this year, while she and drummer/writing partner Dan Gross seek a stage for a musical they spun off one of their most popular tunes, “Southern Rain.”
But an invite came, and Lina — true to form — jumped at it.
So on Tuesday night, Nov. 16, Koutrakos and the boys will play the comfortable Broadway club Iridium — onetime home of the immortal Les Paul, at the north end of Times Square — following a set by a group of musicians from various big-name bands (Billy Joel, Joan Jett, the SNL crew) who call themselves NYCITY HIT SQUAD.
Others might find it daunting: Second act up, weeknight, 10 o’clock, juiced-up “opener.”
“We are putting together a gangbuster set,” she says.
No doubt. If anyone can pull this off, it’s Lina. Gifted, passionate, she mixes sass and swoon, satin and leather. A rocker chick who can play a piano bar, she’s “a human BEing, not a human DOing.” The proverbial package, really.
Strong-willed, too: After moving to New York City from Italy, the Greek goddess put herself on a strict diet, found tasty low-cal foods to replace the pastas and such, and dropped from 278 to 139 pounds.
Koutrakos quickly wowed audiences and critics alike, finishing as a runner-up in the annual John Lennon songwriting contest, working with Richard Barone and jazz singer Johnny Rodgers, among others, and headlining gigs at the Bottom Line. Unleashing her inner babe, raw and resolute, Koutrakos captured exactly how it feels to put your heart on the line, have someone break it, and then find the strength to find something better.
Her repertoire rocks: soul, blues, Southern Rock, R&B, gospel, standards. That kind of versatility never bores. It’s always fresh.
So is Lina’s approach: She doesn’t so much sing the notes as she expresses them.
Although Koutrakos isn’t a household name — yet — setting out to be “the first Elvis Presley” and then watching far lesser lights enjoy greater fame seems to have only fired her determination, and added even more colors to an already expansive palette. It’s no stretch to imagine a “Southern Rain” musical becoming a Broadway hit.
What sold me (besides Lina’s combination of junior-high faith and mature courage) was a version of a song I thought I knew.
Yes, the first glance conjures a hasty stereotype of the sweet but saucy earth mother, crackin’ up the guys, great with the kids, a kitchen wiz. Then, seemingly from nowhere, a swelling wave emerges. Before you know it, you’re under. The doll who charmed you just a little while ago now has you by the … um … throat.
Hot isn’t even the word:
There is a deliberate attempt to pique your interest here. No question. And what’s wrong with that?
Such an unexpected gift — the opportunity to ride an emotional high — is meant to be shared.
LINA KOUTRAKOS & LOW COUNTRY
WHEN: 10 p.m., Tues., Nov. 16
WHERE: Iridium, Broadway & 51st, Manhattan
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