Strong vocals propel stardom of tour partner, Amanda Marshall

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After exchanging her black pants for pink vinyl, Canadian singer Amanda Marshall jumps back on stage here in Boston for her second spot of the evening. She has been opening for John Mellencamp on his current tour, and now, with her distinctively strong vocals, she sings "Pink Houses," one of Mellencamp's trademark songs - with the same energy as he did.

In her native Canada, the singer needs little preamble. Marshall's self-titled debut album has already hit platinum five times, and she was nominated for three Canadian Juno Music awards this year and one last year.

The combination of folk, jazz, and rhythm and blues, along with her husky voice, is propelling her into a larger global audience. Her song "Birmingham" has already reached No. 14 on the US Billboard adult-contemporary charts, telling the story of a battered woman leaving her husband. Her newest hit, "Fall From Grace," is on the ascent. Other singles have neared the tops of charts around the world.

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"I've always wanted to sing, ever since I can remember being conscious of what I wanted to do," she says.

To many, Marshall appears to be joining the ranks of pop stars Alanis Morissette and Sheryl Crow with her strong vocals, characteristic of today's female rock genre. She notes that there are obvious likenesses, especially with fellow Canadian Morissette - same age, same origins, and with records released at about the same times. "But musically," she says, "we are fairly different."

Marshall's sound is a combination of Southern rhythm and blues and folk that she picked up from her parents over the years. She grew up listening to their Tina Turner, Stevie Nicks, Otis Redding, and Ray Charles records as well as various folk artists.

Marshall has been lauded by Elton John, during an appearance on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show," as the brightest rising star. She also followed Shania Twain in singing the Canadian national anthem at the NBA all-star game in Cleveland this year.

But she says the highlight of her career has been touring. "The opportunity to perfect my craft comes every night to get up on stage and do my thing," she says.

She says it's total freedom because she has the opportunity to do something different every night, as she is now doing with John Mellencamp on his US tour.

"You can take the songs you have recorded to completely different levels," Marshall says.

Marshall toured North America extensively before seriously entering a recording studio for the first time. In fact, she spent several years finding the right producer before she recorded her debut album in 1994 and 1995.

"What we tried to do with the record was try to marry all of the different things, the influences and my background together, into a cohesive body of work," Marshall says. She also had a hand in writing three of the songs.

She says her music attracts a fairly diverse audience. "I think it's more challenging to make records that are going to appeal to a broader group of people," she says.

She began classical training at age 3, attending Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music. In high school, she was discovered by singer Jeff Healey, whom she met backstage at a concert. He encouraged her to perform at an open-mic night, and several months later, she was opening for Healey.

Since then she has performed with Joe Cochrane on his "Life Is a Highway" tour, and she also toured with Tears for Fears last year.

She says this is the beginning of a long road, and this record gave her the opportunity to establish herself.

"Hopefully I can continue to make records that I am proud of and continue to perform - where my passion and my happiness is," she says.

Marshall says she will be thinking about another album toward the end of the year. "I am really comfortable being a performing artist," she says, "and to me that is why I make records - to get out and tour."

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