If you look at the photos on Scout Niblett’s website, you might not think that all of them picture the same person. In one she’s a pretty blonde riding a bike. In another she’s a dark-haired woman with bags under her eyes. Here she’s a smart, young, urban professional, and there she looks like a hippie revolutionary posing for a police mug shot. In yet another photo she looks like a little girl. In a few of them she has made herself up to look like a corpse.
These are all images of Emma Louise Niblett, a 34-year-old Englishwoman now living in Oregon. The stage name comes from To Kill a Mockingbird. The fondness for wigs and disturbing role-play may come from photographer Cindy Sherman. As for the music, Niblett has been relentlessly compared to early Cat Power (for her spare arrangements and edge-of-sanity vocal mannerisms) and early P.J. Harvey (for more or less the same reasons). But don’t expect Niblett to sing in a TV commercial for diamonds anytime soon — Niblett may be even more idiosyncratic than Chan Marshall or Polly Jean Harvey.
In “Kiss,” a duet with Will Oldham (a.k.a. Bonnie “Prince” Billy — a guy who knows about stage names and role playing), Niblett sounds lovely and soulful — at least until the part of the song where her voice goes high and nasal and repeats, “It could have killed me!” until it gets kind of scary. She’s playing a role when she sings that song, and she’s not afraid to let it take her places where she doesn’t come off as pretty or nice or all the other things a young woman is expected to be.
SCOUT NIBLETT, Ché Café, Sunday, April 13, 8 p.m. 858-534-2311. $13.