I finally got Ernie Halter figured out late one insomnia-plagued night. As I lay sleepless with one of his songs spinning around in my head, it occurred to me that Halter's stuff would be just right for television. This is not meant as a criticism -- over the years, some very heavy talent has been plugged into that art form. TV themes are all about the muck of human existence put to simple, effective sound bites, and Halter has the ability to contain larger subjects, like relationship drama, into an economical haiku of verse. "God, can You whisper in her ear?" he sings after admitting that he's botched it. "How do I ask her to come back to me/ After I told her goodbye?" A question that, as a songwriter, he's smart enough to not answer.
I don't think that any one of Ernie Halter's friends (almost 70,000 on MySpace) could care less that his musical style is diverse to the point that it is impossible to categorize. Halter's new CD Congress Hotel sounds like a collection of songs from soul purgatory in which his protagonists hang eternal from the meathooks of heartache and desire. "Tell me what kind of man," he sings, "lets love slip away/ And leave such a good thing behind?"
The tortured soul holds a lot of currency in pop culture, and I think Halter knows this. Critics may call Halter's singing soul-lite, and maybe they're right, but the Berklee School of Music grad also fronts the Ernie Halter Quintet, a bluesy, Sinatra-ish kind of cover group that is tailored to Fortune 500 corporate affairs. He's got a nice handle on that material, singing it in an unadorned jazz voice that depends more on inner resources than vocal trickery. As he matures as a performer, it's this gig that may carry him into the future.
ERNIE HALTER, Across the Street (in Mueller College), 4607 Park Boulevard, University Heights, Friday, October 19,8 p.m. 619-291-9811. $10.